“26 years of recruiting and hiring have confirmed that nothing beats reference checking to increase hiring success and reduce turnover.”
There are some tricks to getting good employment references. Not everyone is eager to give them; some HR departments go so far as prohibiting their managers from giving them (more on lawsuits, later.)
Get the applicant’s version first: Your reference checking really starts WHILE YOU ARE INTERVIEWING someone. I ask everyone who they reported to, as well as peers and subordinates, AND what they think each person will say about them. This will also increase the likelihood that they will be truthful during the interview, since they are now sure that you will actually be calling their references.
NEVER use the words “reference check.” Establish rapport with a conversational tone. When you introduce yourself, let them know you were referred to them by the candidate, whom you have interviewed for xyz job, and that he/she suggested you talk to them about the work he/she did… And “do you have just a moment to chat?” Share a bit more about the position…this creates TRUST by giving a legitimate context for the call. Then, ask for safe information first, like, “What are his/her best qualities as an employee” Most people are more comfortable sharing good things about someone, and they are also more likely to be upfront about “areas for improvement” after they have first shared positive attributes. In the middle, ask more neutral questions, such as “What advice would you give Bob’s next employer, on how to manage him to get the best results?” This is also the best time to insert technical questions about their skills, etc.
You can follow with “If Bob needed to improve in one area, what might that be?” I like to word it this exact way, because it sounds less negative than the typical “what are his weaknesses” and again, people are more likely to share one area of improvement- because we can all improve, right? So that is the basic formula I follow, and I get pretty good results with just those few questions. Sometimes there are a few things you will want to add based on your interview, the particular position, etc. And of course you want to probe when you hear a hesitant answer, or a reluctant tone of voice, by asking clarifying questions such as “Can you be more specific about that?” “How so?” “I sense that you are not sure about that…” etc. Talk to enough people to see patterns emerge.I recommend 2 or more for a production level position, 3-5 references for a managerial position, 5-7 or more for an executive level position.
Now, I promised to mention a few things about the legalities of checking references. Click hereto read the full article mentioning legality issues! If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me free of charge!