A reference check is and remains the way to learn about a candidate's employment history and educational background. Even though the check usually confirms your impression of a candidate after a job interview, it may reveal quite a few surprises on occasion. What is the right way to go about it? What are the do's and don'ts?
First things first
Ask for permission! Only contact a referee if the candidate has given you express permission to do so. It is quite unwise to start calling companies willy nilly, as candidates often look for a new job discreetly and would rather not have their current employer find that out.
When you call, begin by stating who you are and why you are calling. Then explain briefly for which function the candidate is applying to ensure that the referee immediately knows which aspects to bring to the fore. After that, you should check that the candidate was employed during the period stated in the CV and whether your information concerning the previous function and the relation with the referee is accurate.
The real work
Your goal is clear: you need to find out how your candidate performed in the past, what you can expect and which functions would be the best match for him or her. And who better than a previous employer would have that kind of insight?
Here are some basic questions you can always fall back on:
- How did the collaboration go? – This question allows the referee to talk about the candidate openly.
- How did he/she fit in the team? – It is important to know whether the candidate can work with different colleagues and how he or she is most efficient in a team setting.
- Which type of function do you think is the best fit for him or her? – This question can offer you new insights or confirm what you have already deduced.
- Which point should he or she work on? – If the collaboration was positive, the referee may not start talking about shortcomings. But you will also get useful information from this. Nobody is perfect!
- “I have some doubts about the candidate's immunity to stress. Do you have an opinion on the matter?” – Express your possible concerns about some competencies or skills. This will either confirm that your doubts are justified or allay your fears in that respect.
- What exactly prompted the candidate's departure? – A quick check to see if your candidate was honest as to the circumstances leading to the end of this experience.
- Would you hire him/her again? – This question clearly reveals whether this was a positive collaboration.
What about a negative reference?
What if the reference is negative? Be honest and inform the candidate, allowing him or her to respond. A negative reference need not be the end of it and may also have an explanation. After all, there are two sides to every story.
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