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How to reference check for A-level talent

Ian Cameron Mar 26, 2014 12:42:00 PM

IMG_0801Checking references is time-consuming, laborious, and … wait for it … critical to making a good hiring decision. Show me someone who doubts the value of reference checking and I’ll show you someone who is doing it the wrong way.

Reference checking the right way provides valuable insights into a candidate's soft and hard skills and the likelihood they will succeed in the role you are considering them for. And it's the only way to be sure you're getting a A-level candidate. Here are some tips for checking references the right way.

1. Speak only to prior managers 

In actual fact there is no real harm in expanding your net to co-workers and direct reports, but if you are short on time— and who isn’t these days— then stick to those people who will provide the greatest insights. That’s their managers. Preferably, you want people who managed them for a long period of time.

If you’re dealing with new grad who has no work experience, ask for people who worked with them in a volunteer role.

2. Ask open ended questions

You’ve done the leg work and now you have a former manager on the phone. Don’t waste your opportunity eliciting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Ask questions that encourage the reference to provide details and opinion.

3. Refer to your job profile or job description

Don’t just ask random or generic questions. Use your job profile or job description to create questions that will point back to the success criteria you spent time developing. 

4. Use behavior-based questions

The same principles that apply to behavioural interviewing apply here. Get the reference talking about specific examples of when a candidate exhibited, or failed to exhibit, the kinds of behaviour that you’re looking for. Just take your candidate interview questions and tweak them for a former manager. “Tell me about a time when he/she …” And be sure to use the SARR probing method just like you would with a candidate.

5. Verify stories from the behavioural interview

If you conducted your behavioural interview the right way with your candidate, you should have some stories of how the candidate demonstrated the behaviours you’re looking for. Check those stories out with the reference and see what their perspective is on them. Make sure you are asking for their managers as part of your interview process per the correct probing method.

If you want to take a deeper dive into how to find and hire A-Level candidates, consider signing up for our free webinar, Aim High: 5 Steps to Hiring & Retaining A-Level Talent.

Share your tips for effective reference checking in the comments section.

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Topics: Recruitment

Ian Cameron

Written by Ian Cameron

Ian Cameron is the Managing Director of The McQuaig Institute®. He has more than 20 years of Human Resource and Organizational Development consulting experience. Throughout his career Ian’s focus has been on helping organizations realize their goals through their people and helping people live their passion through their work.