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Getting More Out of Reference Checks: Finding the Real Candidate Behind the Resume

Published on Oct 10, 2023

Hiring the right person for your team is crucial, especially when they're tasked with driving revenue growth or supporting important projects.

Reference checks are a valuable tool in ensuring you make the best choice.

However, to get the most out of them, you need to dig deeper than just seeking glowing reviews. Here's how to make your reference checks more insightful and effective.

Prioritize Honesty over Praise

First and foremost, emphasize the need for honesty in reference checks. You're not looking for perfect, glowing reviews; instead, you're seeking candid insights into the candidate's strengths and areas needing improvement. Encourage your references to be forthright about both the positive and negative aspects.

Ask for Multiple References

Don't settle for a single reference. Aim to collect a minimum of two references. This broader perspective will provide a more comprehensive view of the candidate's qualifications and character.

The Art of Asking

Now that you have your references lined up, consider how to approach them. Your questions should focus on revealing the candidate's true capabilities and fit for your team.

Disarm the Reference

References may feel emotionally inclined to provide a favorable recommendation, fearing it might affect the candidate's job prospects. To alleviate this concern, you can use a simple phrase: "I know this person must have areas they aren't as strong in. Before I make a decision, it would be incredibly helpful to know what those areas are so that I can be prepared if we hire them." By acknowledging the candidate's imperfections and showing your willingness to consider them, you encourage the reference to provide a more balanced assessment. If you hire the candidate then you have additional insights into areas for growth with your new employee!

Discover the Pain Points

The primary purpose of your reference checks is to uncover any potential red flags or weaknesses in the candidate's profile. One useful tactic is to ask for a numerical rating, say on a scale of 1 to 5, of the candidate's performance. If the reference gives a 4, for instance, follow up by asking, "What was lacking that would make them a perfect 5?" This prompts the reference to pinpoint areas where the candidate may fall short.

Evaluate Impact

To assess the candidate's influence in their previous role, inquire whether they were among the essential individuals who drove results. Ask, "Would you count this person as one of those types of people who really carried the load?" Pay close attention to the reference's nonverbal cues, as their reaction can speak volumes.

In conclusion, reference checks are more than just a formality; they're an opportunity to gain valuable insights into your potential team members. By focusing on honesty, asking the right questions, and putting references at ease, you can ensure your reference checks provide a clearer picture of the candidate's suitability for your team.

Author: George Zimny, Co-Founder of ProducifyX

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