Resumes can showcase individuals’ technical skills, experience, and accomplishments. Interviews can demonstrate individuals’ communication skills and personality traits; however, both provide only what a candidate chooses to share. By conducting reference checks, a hiring manager can gain a better understanding of a candidate’s professional behavior and capabilities—as well as their potential.
Helbling search consultants conduct hundreds of professional reference checks each year. For each finalist candidate, they speak with several individuals to garner information from various angles. If you conduct reference checks, it may be time to give your process a quick checkup.
Here are some professional tips:
1. Contact references by email to schedule a convenient time to communicate via a phone call or video meeting.
This sends the message that the person’s time is important and that you are considerate of their schedule. It also gives the individual providing the reference an opportunity to prepare for the conversation, which may result in more specific and valuable feedback.
2. On the call, describe the role for which the candidate has applied and listen to the person providing the reference.
Pay attention to their tone of voice and willingness to respond to your questions. In most cases, someone who is pleased with the work or performance of an individual will have a positive attitude about them, be willing to invest time in helping them, and be excited about a new opportunity for them.
3. Prepare a list of questions to collect information about the candidate’s performance, skills, work style, work relationships, and personal character.
Ensure that questions are presented with neutral, unbiased language. Examples include:
- When and how did you first meet the candidate?
- In what capacity did you (or do you) interact at work?
- Are you able to comment on the candidate’s abilities in the following areas? (These areas can and should be adjusted based on the role and the reference being contacted.)
- Communication Skills
- Leadership Skills
- Problem Solving Skills
- Technical Knowledge
- Work Ethic
- Can you describe how the candidate interacts with audiences inside and outside of their department?
- What is the candidate’s management style?
- What other personal or professional traits of the candidate may play a role in this new position?
- In your opinion, how would the candidate perform in this role?
4. Use your question list but deviate from it if an answer prompts a follow-up question.
Sometimes you can glean more from a conversational approach than an interrogative one. Follow-up prompts may include, “Please tell me about a time when…”
- …the candidate managed a difficult client or end user.
- …the candidate delivered bad news.
- …the candidate faced a challenge and provided a solution.
Here are some additional guidelines:
If you are serving as a reference for a candidate:
- Respond promptly when approached by a candidate to serve as a reference or by a potential employer or search consultant to learn more about a candidate.
- Ask about the specific role for which the candidate is interviewing and the status of the search process.
- Prior to the reference call, research any background details that you cannot remember, such as how long and when you worked together (if applicable).
If you are a candidate who wants someone to serve as a reference for you:
- Consider a variety of individuals who will provide different perspectives as references. They may include clients and co-workers but should include at least one direct supervisor.
- Ask each individual for permission prior to listing them as a reference and verify that the contact information you have for them is correct.
If you are a hiring manager or candidate with any questions about reference checks, please contact us
to speak with a Helbling search consultant.