Reference checks have been an integral part of the hiring process for decades. Before a hire is completed, the hiring company checks in with previous employers or other contacts to glean information about the candidate, helping the hiring team reach a better decision.
But do references carry the same weight they did previously? Does it make sense in today’s work climate to make it an important piece of the hiring process or to do it at all? Here are some positives and negatives associated with this common practice.
They’re sometimes unreliable. The main issue has been a problem since references were part of the interview process: What candidate would offer a reference that wouldn’t provide a positive review? The prospective employee has filtered out any critical options and provided you with the very best they could find. If you already know they’ll be complimentary toward the candidate, how valuable will they actually be?
They’re often guarded. In today’s climate, many employers don’t want to say much about their former employees. There’s no real upside, and potential legal issues if the employee feels they were given a defamatory review. In many cases, you’re likely to get little or no information aside from dates of employment. And that’s assuming you speak to them at all.
Testing the candidate. Of course, a prospective employee will present their very best references. But what if their “very best’ is a lukewarm vote of confidence? We might assume that everybody has people who will give them glowing references, but if they don’t, you can find that out while you’re following up. A noted lack of enthusiasm from their references could be a red flag and help you avoid a costly hiring mistake.
Due diligence. If legal issues were to come up regarding an employee, your hiring process might come under scrutiny. And if you never bothered to ask for references, or follow up on the ones you received, it can be seen as not doing your job. Your employees represent your company, and you’re responsible for their behavior and actions while working. If nothing else, you want to show that you followed best practices and made an effort to ensure you cultivated an ethical team in the workplace.
Important honesty. There are times when you’ll gain real insight into a candidate from their references, and it can be invaluable to your decision-making process. You’ll learn about how they might fit into your corporate culture, their work personality, and how they approach handling their assigned tasks. You won’t get it every time, but having the opportunity to obtain that kind of information makes the effort worth it.
The End Result and Imperium
References can still be an important part of your interview process and provide valuable insight into the candidate or provide evidence that you’ve done your homework during the research phase. But the information you can expect to receive, and the perceived value of that information, should be tempered by a realistic understanding of how references work. While there are benefits to continuing the practice, it shouldn’t be the only reason you choose a candidate for your job opening.
Imperium Data Consulting can help you implement a successful reference strategy, while supplementing that information with our own experience and methodology to provide you with the best candidates for your job openings. Our goal is to find the right hire the first time, no matter what position needs to be filled. For more information, use our contact page.