Checking References the Right Way

Many employers think checking a candidate’s work references is tedious and unnecessary, but they are wrong.  When done right, reference checking is both enlightening and essential.  The problem is that employers don’t use the proper interview techniques and they don’t use the occasion of talking to references to its fullest potential.

Here’s how to do it right:  During the interview process, as you discuss the candidate’s work history, zero in on a particular event–or events–when the candidate and his or her co-workers worked to resolve a problem or disagreed on an issue.  Discuss this matter at length with the candidate, asking specific questions about time, place, and the people involved.  Now, from among those involved people choose the supervisors or co-workers with whom you would like to speak to verify the candidate’s version of events.

When you ask the candidate for the names and contact information of those involved in the particular events, note the reaction.  An honest candidate will typically try to help you in every way possible to contact the reference and thereby confirm his or her account; while a dishonest candidate will erect obstacles and make excuses for not providing contact information.

When you contact your chosen reference, you have specific, work-related events to discuss and verify, and now you can engage that reference in a conversation that confirms or refutes the candidate’s version.  When the candidate has told the truth about the event, even if it involved a difficult workplace problem, you will find the reference is willing to discuss it.  But when the candidate has misrepresented or exaggerated the event, the reference will contradict the candidate’s version, and you will know your candidate’s commitment to honesty is questionable.

Quality, work-related references gathered during the interview can provide insight into the honesty of the candidate, and finding an honest candidate is the key to finding a good worker.  The secret to finding useful references is to select them yourself.  When talking to references, the secret is to have relevant workplace events to discuss with them.


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