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Phone based Reference Checks don’t work

The traditional reference check has become essentially unreliable and time consuming for hiring pros across most organizations today. In today’s environment only about 30% of references ever respond meaning 70% of your time and effort is completely wasted!

While the lack of response is a major issue, more important is the details that are revealed from references. Even when references provide information, the data is very often polluted with influence of loyalty to former colleagues.  Even when candidates were far from ideal, most references will naturally paint a rosier picture of candidates.
The largest issue with many reference checking processes today is a lack of connection between the questions being asked and attributes needed for a top performer. The result of this lack of direct linking leads to subjectivity rather than accuracy in the process. The main aim of a reference check should be to gain insight/information on a candidate that can’t be gained from another step in the hiring and interviewing process. If this data is tainted with highly subjective evaluation much if not all of the value from the info gained is wasted.

Reference Checking is still important!

Even with these major deficiencies reference checking still can provide a ton of value, the key is developing and executing with better methods to get the real value from the process. With the ability to get real feedback from those who worked closely with a candidate, reference checking provides more value than almost any other step in the hiring process.

Ultimately the hiring process aims to predict which candidates will perform and fit best for any given position and organization. With this in mind, it’s hard to argue that no one thing can predict this better than those who have already worked with someone before!

How to Reference Check better

So how exactly can you improve your reference checking process to begin getting real value? Getting real value from the reference checking process isn’t as hard as it may seem. To get the best value your process should aim to answer 2 questions:

• Has the candidate done the job well before?
• Is their experience transferable to your company?

The primary answer your reference checking process should provide is more than just performing the job, have they done the job (or a similar one) well in the past. The key in this step is defining what constitutes doing the job well. For example, if you were checking references for a potential sales person. It would be easy to ask things like “How much did they sell” or “Where were they percentage wise for sales people”.

These seem like pretty straight forward questions that fit directly for a salesperson however they leave open the possibility that the candidate sold quite a bit but could have had a very low close rate if they were taking many more leads than other agents. Also if your organizations sales are more recurring in nature it would be important to ask what % of their sales were from new and existing clients. Thinking about what really matters and defining that is truly the most important part to ensuring value from the process because it ensures you get information that is empirical and can’t be influenced by perceptions and opinions.

The other piece of ensuring you get valuable information is determining if this is transferable to your company or position. For this you need to ensure that the questions asked are aimed at skills and traits that actually make sense for your company. Referring to the answer above, you can see where this comes into play; if the person worked in a more transactional sales position you should think about ways to get at if the person attempts to develop relationships with customers & prospects.

While these two examples above get answers to our 2 primary questions, you should also implement a methodology to ensure higher response rates. As pointed out above, using the phone is really not a efficient method to solicit responses. For this purpose you should attempt to make the process online and as automated as possible. For this you can use some of the free surveying tools like Qualtrics or Survey Monkey. By making providing an online option references can simply log on whenever convenient. Using a survey tool also makes it so that responses are empirical, the reference must select specific answers so that each candidate is measured on the same scale.

The result of all this is a more efficient process that is faster than phone based reference checks and is much more accurate and predictive of the candidates potential for performing. These insights from candidate references are vital to making good hires. With more structure behind what you’re measuring and how you can get more value from you reference checking process.

About the Author

Greg Moran is the CEO of Chequed, a Pre Employment Testing Screening platform for Predictive Talent Selection. For those looking to take their reference checking process to the next level check out ChequedReference, an automated reference checking software.