Why reference checks are more important than you think

Reference checks are often thought of as useful for ensuring a candidate has the experience and qualifications they claim, but they might be more valuable than you think.

Hassanah Rudd, talent acquisition manager at nbn co, says reference checks are useful in many ways, including uncovering how a candidate performs in the workplace and the management style that will help them achieve the best results.

“At the end of the day, references are absolutely invaluable. You absolutely should do them. You should absolutely include them as part of the process and it should round out the experience you’ve had with the candidate to that point,” Rudd says.

To ensure you make the most of reference checks, Rudd offers the following advice.

Source the right referee

The first thing an in-house recruiter should do is to check that the suggested referee is actually in a position to make comment. Rudd says this is usually a matter of confirming that the candidate reported to the person giving the reference.

However, there are occasions when a candidate is leaving their job because they don’t get on with their previous boss, and in these cases the recruiter might need to work with the candidate to identify another person who can provide a reference.

Find out how a candidate operates

Reference checks should offer more than merely the final box on the recruitment checklist.

“It’s an opportunity to check back with previous managers in terms of how somebody actually goes in a working environment, and to let you know how best to manage them – what gets the best out of them and what they’ve achieved through that,” Rudd says.

A prominent issue for recruiters is to ask how the candidate manages adversity. Rudd says any role will inevitably bring some challenges so it is important to assess their level of resilience.

It is also useful to ask what sort of environment allows the candidate to achieve at the highest level, and whether the candidate is a worker who needs close supervision or who won’t respond well to being micromanaged.

Ask challenging questions

To find out the whole story, recruiters must ask probing questions and address more substantial topics.

While there are several challenging questions that can be put to a previous employer, Rudd says the all-important-question should be: “Will you hire them again, given an opportunity in the future?”

“It is telling,” she says. “If you get a pause before they answer it gives you an opportunity to dig around that and find out why are they hesitating.”

Another challenging question can relate to the candidate’s main achievements in the role. Sometimes the former manager might not remember or the candidate might not have been in the role very long, but on other occasions it might be that while the candidate was a good, solid performer they didn’t really stretch the boundaries of the role.

But this isn’t necessarily a negative for all roles, says Rudd. “If you’re recruiting for a role that’s going to fit them perfectly, then that’s a good fit,” she says. “If you’re recruiting for a role where you actually need somebody that’s really going to push the boundaries and challenge and really be an absolute high performer, then that’s probably not going to be so much of a fit.”

Share information with your team

Rudd notes that “there’s absolutely no point” in doing reference checks unless that information flows back to the person who will ultimately be the candidate’s manager.

This allows the manager to get off to a successful start with the new employee, value their diversity of thought and the differences they bring to the team, and know how to get the best out of them. “You want to make sure that they’re set up for success,” Rudd says.

Get reference check ready: How to get the most out of reference checks

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Christopher Niesche

Christopher Niesche is a finance and business specialist with two decades of journalism experience, including as deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review. Christopher started his career at The Australian, before becoming New Zealand bureau...

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