Reference checks can be a vital way of understanding more about a candidate before offering them a position in your company. However, some organisations are not even using reference checks as a part of their hiring process because you really need to take what’s said at face value.
There will always be value in ensuring that some of the factual data is correct such as responsibilities, achievements, employment dates and reasons for leaving. Because if this doesn’t match what the candidate is telling you, then that level of honestly should be an immediate red flag.
But let’s face it, a candidate is only going to give you contact details for a reference that they’re pretty confident are going to provide a positive response.
And even worse, in this cut-throat wild west world of business, if the candidate is coming from a competitor and hasn’t been a particular good performer in their role then the old boss might downplay the candidate’s shortcomings in order to offload their worst performers onto a competitor.
So, should you just stop doing reference checks? Absolutely not. Instead of asking about strengths and weaknesses, you could ask two equally negative options and see which one they choose, as this is far more likely to produce truthful insights.
For example, is the candidate:
Too pushy or never pushy enough?
Too selfless or not selfless enough?
Overly optimistic or too much of a pessimist?
Too proactive or largely reactive?
Likes to be left alone to get work done or needs a team environment to thrive?
As it’s unclear which of the two possibilities is the answer that the hiring manager or recruiter is looking for, the reference will be more likely to tell the truth. If you know of any questions that you have found to be really effective to ask during reference checks then please feel free to share them.