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Conducting Reference Checks

by Colleen P Moyne (Colmo) (follow)
I'm a freelance writer living in the beautiful river town of Mannum in SA, dreaming of the day I can retire from the 9-5 to write full time.
Business (100)      Business Basics (34)      Managing Staff (15)      HR (9)     

Business Interview
Image courtesy of ambro / freedigitalphotos.net

As an employer recruiting new staff, we want to learn as much about potential candidates as possible. We scrutinize their application and CV, craft our interview questions to extract as much information from them as we can in the short time available, and then, if they make it through this process, we check their references.

The first thing we need to establish is that the candidate has confirmed with their referees that we will be making contact.

We also need to very carefully consider the questions we will ask and how we will ask them. Will we:

 Mail or email a pre-set questionnaire that requires written answers?

 Conduct a telephone interview with a pre-set questionnaire?

 Wing it and let the questions flow naturally?

 Arrange a face-to-face interview?

In my experience, most people go with the second method; a phone interview with a specific set of questions. While this method can be useful for keeping us on track and ensuring that we don’t forget any of the important questions, we need to allow some room for movement. Engaging in a conversation can reveal a lot more than just sticking to a script.

Business Interview
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / freedigitalphotos.net

So the first thing we need to do is list the things we really want to know from a referee – the information we hope to gather.

We then contact at least two referees. The initial call should be to make an appointment – to set a time when the referee will not busy or distracted.

When we make the all-important interview call, we should begin by introducing ourselves, giving an overview of our organisation and outlining what the requirements of the position are. Tell the referee that you are considering X for the position and that you would like to ask a few questions. Give them an indication up front of the types of questions and explain to them that they are under no obligation to answer any that they don’t wish to. This in itself can be a good indicator.

We should try to be a little creative in our questions. Instead of asking, ‘Is X a team player?’ we can say, ‘Can you give me an example of a time when X displayed good teamwork?’ That way we can ensure the answer will be more than a yes or no.

Finally, ask is there anything else they would like to add and thank them for their time.

Business Interview
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / freedigitalphotos.net

Of course, referee checks aren't always fool-proof. I know of a manager who gave an excellent reference for an employee in the hopes that she would get the job and move on. He said nothing misleading – the employee’s work was quite satisfactory – but he left out the part about the employee being overly talkative and loud. He wasn't asked, so he didn't tell. I don’t condone this approach and believe that we are under the obligation to be as truthful as possible.

Reference checks are just one part of the selection process. One of the best interviews I have experienced was several years ago when I applied for a position with a large organisation. I was invited to an initial formal interview by the area manager and site manager. Then once they had determined that I had the right skills, I was invited to meet the coordinator that I would be working directly with for coffee at a local café. This helped us to learn a bit more about each other in an informal conversation and to ensure we would get along. Fortunately we did, and I got the job.

Business Interview
Image courtesy of serge bertasius photography / freedigitalphotos.net

#Business Basics
#Managing Staff
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