5 Ways to Make Reference Checks Worth Your While

Don't waste your time listening to empty praise. How to make the most of reference checks

Written by Advisory Board

Welcome to Advisory Board, a weekly department in which a panel of experts—made up of entrepreneurs and professionals—answer questions you have about how to run your business better.

This week, a reader asks:

“€‹€‹I’m hiring for a customer-facing role, and have narrowed the field to three candidates. Are reference checks a good way of differentiating between applicants, or just a waste of time?”

Here’s what the experts have to say:

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“Reference checks aren’t just a good idea, they are an essential step in finding out if the person you are about to hire really is who they say they are. Be attuned to the fact that it’s a small world, and people tend to be overly diplomatic when they aren’t giving a good reference, so you’ll need to read between the lines a little. If you notice that references are missing, or your candidate has directed you to a former colleague instead of a manager, these are red flags. A good rule of thumb is never to hire someone who doesn’t have over the top, glowing references.”

—Mark Wardell, president & founder, Wardell International, Vancouver

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“A meta-analysis of 85 years of personnel selection techniques compared 19 common methods to see how well they predict job performance. Reference checking ranked 13th, with a .26 correlation—a small to moderate connection with predicting success. So while checking references is not a total waste of time, it’s definitely not the only or main thing you should do to assess and select candidates.

Our hiring process uses skills and experience scoring and psychometric personality testing—two  assessment methods ranked as “moderate to large” in success prediction—to create a shortlist. Then we recommend that hiring managers use the two most predictive methods in the final assessment of the shortlisted candidates: structured behavioural interviewing, followed by work sample tests for the final 1€“3 candidates.

“Using these four methods in sequence will give you the best chance at making a great hire. And if you’d still like to check their references as a final step, we recommend an automated references survey, which gives you a more objective view, takes little time, and costs only $100 per candidate.”

Edwin Jansen, managing director, Hirefly, Toronto

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“Few people give unbiased references, so while references may shed light on a candidate’s ability and record, it may not be as diverse as other options. If you are hiring people for customer-facing roles, you will very like be able to see feedback, recommendations, and endorsements on social media. Twitter and Facebook will give you an idea of how candidates interact with people. You would want to see a respectful dialogue, and a mature way of handling a diverse set of topics.”

Pernille Fischer Boulter, CEO & founder, Kisserup International Trade Roots Inc., Halifax

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“I often find the most valuable references are from managers or owners from previous companies who are not listed as references. I also use on-the-job interviews to see how the potential candidate interacts with staff and prospective customers.”

Phoebe Fung, proprietor, Vin Room and VR Wine, Calgary

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“Many recruiters are adding social networking sites to their review of potential employees. While I agree Google, Facebook and LinkedIn provide further insight, it’s important to use these tools thoughtfully and strategically to ensure you’re making unbiased decisions. Call me old fashioned, but I’m a fan of the tried and true method of picking up the phone and having an open dialogue with a reference.”

Shannon Bowen-Smed, president & CEO, BOWEN, Calgary

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com