Three important reasons to interview candidate references.

Is the most qualified candidate offered the position, or is that the individual with the best resume? Everyone has seen the statistics relating to the false information provided on a resume. But not every candidate provides false information. The only way to rectify the situation is reference checking. It is a question of either using a hunch or your instincts about an individual or actually obtaining hard evidence of the candidate’s ability to complete the tasks required for the position. It can mean the difference between a successful hire and a drain on resources. According to a SHRM survey, 86% of employers conduct a form of reference checking prior to extending an offer of employment.

The first step to confirm a resume is to include instructions during the application process for the candidate to provide relevant references from a working relationship. ATS applications often come through with either no information about supervisors, or references that have no real relevant connection relevant to the candidate’s performance at their employment. If the candidate is moving on to the next level in the hiring process, discussions should encourage the candidate to provide appropriate references.

The key to a successful reference check begins with a plan that includes what questions will be asked to determine the candidate’s qualifications and how those questions will be asked. Asking questions that prompt the reference to only answer yes or no will not develop as much information and insight as open ended questions. Responses to open-ended questions often develop new avenues to pursue to discuss the candidate’s qualifications.

From our experience in the background investigation industry, we have found that a majority of the references are cooperative and willing to discuss the candidate’s abilities. It is most important to judge the tone of the references responsiveness and willingness to participate in the interview. Often what is not said, or how a reference frames their responses is most important. Contrary to popular belief that references will not provide negative information, we can categorically confirm that this is not the case.

During reference interviews, it is important to establish the position and relationship of the candidate in the work environment to the reference. The most ideal interview with a reference begins with a call into the main number of the employer and then a transfer to the reference’s extension. This step confirms the reference is at the employer indicated by the candidate. Be particularly wary if you if calling a reference on their cell phone. The interview process should always evaluate the reference almost as much as the candidate to confirm that the reference has the knowledge and understanding appropriate for the level required for their position. It is not beyond the candidate that falsifies a resume to take the next step and provide their friends as references. An added layer of protection and confirmation can include a quick Internet search by the reference’s name and LinkedIn to confirm the reference’s status at an employer.

A properly conducted reference interview will confirm experience listed on the resume. Primary areas that should be discussed with a reference in addition to the candidate’s work performance include punctuality, interaction with team members, willingness to be flexible and take on additional responsibilities when needed, and level of dedication to the position.  Open ended questions that ask what stands out most in your mind about the candidate and a discussion regarding their strengths and weaknesses will develop insight. The final question should determine if the candidate is eligible to return if a position is available and does the reference recommend the candidate to a potential employer. Everyone is aware of the consequences of a bad hire. Wasted time, money, and training plus the loss of coworker morale, and the necessity to start the recruiting process to fill the position all over again. The best practices Human Resources can follow to ensure a good hire is the establishment of a reference checking process that includes a plan of action for each reference interview.