Reference check questions: how, what and why?
Are your top candidates everything they claim to be? Reference checks are the best way to find out.
You've combed the CVs, conducted the interviews and settled on your top candidates. The next step is to run reference checks on the final applicants. Bizarrely, it's a step that some employers skip. But if you are serious about finding the best candidate for your business - rather than wasting money on hiring the wrong person - employer reference checks are a no-brainer.
Why you really, really should run reference checks
1. Get game-changing insight on your candidates
No-one knows the professional credentials of your top candidates better than their previous/current employers. When it comes to whittling down your candidates, the right reference check questions could give you the extra insight you need to make a confident final decision on who to hire. That could be particularly useful if you are struggling to separate two or three strong candidates.
2. Check your candidates are who they say they are
No one likes thinking about it, but the sad reality is that some people lie about their professional history. Talking to previous employers allows you to make sure your top candidates are everything they claim to be and have the experience needed to succeed in the role they have applied for.
That's important because...
3. Employing the wrong person wastes money
Employing the wrong person can be alarmingly costly. Not only are there the direct costs of recruitment, there's also the cost of wages and training. Then there's the immeasurable impact on colleague productivity. Oh and the potential cost of any mistakes a poor employee makes. Bottom line? Do everything in your power to be sure you are hiring the right person.
4. Employing the wrong person wastes time
Hiring the wrong person also wastes time - a commodity you are likely already short of. You may have to redo the entire recruitment process, tying up staff with CV appraisals and interviews. Again. (When you let REED take care of your recruitment, we guarantee to replace a new hire for free in the unlikely event that things don't work out.)
How to approach employer reference check questions
1. Get consent from your candidates
Before approaching previous employers you need consent from the candidate. Now, a common mistake with reference checks is to ask the applicant to specify which references to contact. But these people may not be able to give the best insight on your candidate. Tell your applicants who you would like to speak to - wheedle out people who actually supervised them - and ask for their contact details. Assuming your candidate has nothing to hide, they should oblige.
2. Speak to more than one person
You want a rounded, balanced view of each candidate. So aim to speak to more than one person - if possible at more than one previous employer. Two or three good conversations should give you the insight you are looking for. Note that you may not be able to speak to a candidate's current employer if they are unaware that their employee has applied for a job elsewhere.
3. How should you approach the conversation with a previous employer?
There's no reason that conversations with previous employers should be daunting. They are part and parcel of life in business. At the start of the conversation introduce yourself, your title, your organisation and explain that you are calling for a reference on a job candidate. Respect their time and ask whether right now is convenient. If not, schedule an alternative.
The rest is plain sailing. Identify the applicant and explain that they have given consent for you to get a reference and that everything they say will be strictly confidential. Finally, give a brief description of the role you are recruiting for. It will help the person on the end of the phone to answer your questions as relevantly as possible.
So what questions should you ask?
Sample reference check questions
You will likely have a number of questions in mind for the previous employers of your candidates. Your goal is to make sure their CV and interview claims check out in real life, while gauging whether your candidates have the right experience and personality for the position you are recruiting for.
All questions should be job-related and legal. You cannot ask questions during a reference check that you are prohibited from asking during an interview. Here are ten ideas for getting the information you need to make confident, informed decisions on your final applicants.
1. How do you know the candidate?
2. How often do/did you work with them?
The answers to these questions will help you verify that you are talking to the right person - someone with a good professional understanding of the candidate.
3. What are/were the candidate's responsibilities and salary?
This question allows you to cross-check the information given by a candidate during the application process.
4. What are their strongest qualities?
Find out if your candidate's best qualities are applicable to the role they have applied for.
5. What are their weaknesses or areas that need improvement?
Likewise, would their weaknesses significantly hinder their ability to perform successfully in their new job?
6. How reliable are they?
If the role is client-facing or requires the candidate to stay cool under pressure, you will want to make sure they are reliable.
7. Have there been any issues with punctuality or absenteeism?
Presumably you don't want to hire someone who is going to be late to important meetings or calling in sick four times a week.
8. Did you ever have to reprimand the employee? If so what were the circumstances?
This one speaks for itself. Remember that everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Look for evidence that the candidate learnt from their misdemeanour.
9. Why do you think they left?
You may find that their heart has been set on working in a role or industry like yours. Alternatively they may be chasing a bigger pay-packet.
10. Would you rehire them?
Given everything a previous employer knows about the candidate, the answer to this question could be particularly illuminating.
The right reference check questions can arm you with the knowledge you need to make difficult decisions about your candidates with confidence. They are a fast, free and painless way to get key insight from the people who know them best - at least in a professional capacity. That makes reference checks an essential part of your recruitment process.
And one that our professional consultants will be happy to help you with. Just say the word.