References 101 | Part 2

Nowadays, most employers ask for you to provide them with at least three references. Most people ask the same question, “Do they actually call and check those?” The answer is almost always YES; yes, they do.  Picking the right references and asking those people to be a reference can be a task in and of itself.  On the employer side of things, checking those references can be daunting and time-consuming, but as we lay out below, neither has to be true.

How to Check References

Ask for feedback

Touch base with everyone who has spoken to the candidate. Ask them what they think, what their concerns are, and what they would like you to follow up on. The goal is to mold your questions around what you are hearing and get as much out of the third-party reference as you can from the candidate.

Make sure you are clear with the candidate about what types of people you want to hear from. If you want to know more about their leadership skills, ask them to provide you with a supervisor or manager so you can better answer the questions you have about that skillset.

Be prepared

Assume the call will take an hour. It won’t, but if you are better prepared to take that amount of time, you won’t feel rushed, and neither will the reference. The goal here is to take your time, dig in deep with their references, and ask any and all questions you have. It’s okay to stray from your pre-written questions and ask other follow-ups as the call goes on.

Describe the job

Describe to the reference what you are looking for and ask if the candidate was under the same circumstances when they worked together. Example: “We are seriously considering Ellen for our Regional Sales Manager opportunity. In this role, she will have to travel often and meet a goal of $3 million in sales. Is this similar to what she was doing when she worked with you? How did she handle it? Did she overcome obstacles? Did she hit her goal?

Open-ended questions ONLY

Ask very specific open-ended questions; instead of “Did (the candidate) do a good job when working with you?” ask something more along the lines of “I understand that your company is goal-oriented and competitive can you tell me how (the candidate) handled that environment on a daily basis?” Another way to ask is, “I understand (the candidate) helped implement a new training process. Can you tell me what (his/her) role specifically was in that project?”

These questions leave it open for the reference to formulate a deep and detailed answer about what specifically the candidate did, what their skills and abilities are, and how he or she could be an asset to your company. This also opens it up for them to give any negative feedback they may have.

Soft skills

After you have the facts on the skills, abilities, and contributions of the employee, be sure to ask about their soft skills. Soft skills cover the candidate’s personality, how they handle day-to-day stress, how they speak to vendors, clients, and customers, as well as how easy they are to get along with within the office. These traits are just as important as other skills and abilities more closely related to getting the job done correctly.

References are an essential and vital part of hiring the best employees for your business. They should be one of several pillars that construct your decision to move forward with the candidate or not. Make sure you take your time with them and get all the information you can.

For information on how to ask someone to be a reference for you, read this blog post.