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The True Value of a Reference

There are many steps to the hiring process –

  1. the résumé review,
  2. the interview,
  3. the reference check
  4. and the offer.

Of these four steps, the reference check is the one that seems to be the most undervalued by employers. This is because many hiring managers believe that there is simply no use in checking references because job applicants will never provide a bad reference.

But imagine this nightmare hiring scenario… hire a person who looks smart and capable on their résumé – the right degree, the right background – you make an offer and it is accepted. Then your nightmare begins. It turns out that your perfect “paper candidate” is not so perfect after all, and that your costs (for making this bad hire) have escalated into the tens of thousands of dollars.

What happened?
When new employees do not succeed at new jobs, it is usually not because of their skills or their experience. It is because their soft skills (their intangible qualities) do not mesh with your company’s culture, your other employees’ work styles, etc.

In most cases, a potential employee’s soft skills (his work ethic, ability to get along with others, ability to make deadlines, etc.) are hard to elicit from an interview. This is due to either inexperience on the interviewer’s part or an innate ability to interview well on the part of the applicant.

However, getting a true and accurate picture of the “entire” candidate is the true value of a reference. There are three things to keep in mind in terms of checking an applicant’s references:

  1. Do not ignore personal references. Many employers simply toss out personal references and focus only on business / work references. This can potentially cost you a large amount of insight into the candidate. It is true that some personal references can only say that the applicant was a true and loyal friend. However, in many cases, the personal reference can offer insight to the candidate’s core skillset. A good networker is going to be a good networker in his personal life as well as his professional life. Focus on asking open-ended questions that could elicit that type of information. For example, “Jane seems to be very well connected in her profession. Can you tell me about a time when she used her connections in a situation outside of work”? With a little bit of effort, you can determine whether or not a touted competency is inherent throughout the candidate.
  2. Confirmation.References are about corroboration. During the interview, you discussed many of the applicant’s skills and accomplishments. Discussing these skills during a reference check is a way to corroborate or invalidate anything you might have chatted about during the interview. However, the manner in which you confirm information is very important. Do not simply ask “yes” or “no” questions. Ask open-ended questions. If all references confirm the applicant’s claims in the same way (without receiving any prompts or choices), you can be fairly certain that what was told to you in the interview is accurate.
  3. Use third party references. Can you talk to someone who hasn’t been prepped to be a reference for your candidate? If so, you are more likely to get less rehearsed answers to your questions rather than prepared ones. Most references are loyal to the applicant. Even when the person was less than an ideal worker, most references will paint a rosier picture of their work habits – for a variety of reasons. References usually do not like giving a bad reference.

Reference checking is a vital part of the hiring process. In theory, most companies agree. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 96% of companies claim to use reference checking as a screening and selection tool; however, in reality very few companies do.

Snelling knows the importance of checking all of our employees’ references. You can be assured that when you partner with Snelling for your entire flexible workforce needs, you will work with the best fit workers for you organization. You have this assurance because we have thoroughly screened and interviewed all of our employees. So locate your local Snelling office today to find out more about our staffing solutions, and the people we employ as part of those solutions.

Snelling Corporate Office

4055 Valley View Lane, Suite #700
Dallas, TX, 75244

(800) 411-6401

(972) 239-7575