Two Simple Steps for a Great Reference Check
After being unhappy with our office cleaning service for longer than I should have, I finally took action to replace them. Finding alternative vendors wasn’t the challenge. Finding one that I thought would make me happy was!
At the end of the process, naturally, came the all-important reference check. Now, you know that any cleaning service is only going to give you their happiest customers as a reference, right?
It’s much the same when hiring a new employee. Reference names given tend to be real supporters of the candidate and probably won’t say anything negative. So, how can you get valuable information about your potential employee? It’s real simple.
There are just TWO things you have to remember when checking references
Talk to the Right People
Ask the Right Questions
Talk To the Right People
Make sure that your final candidates give you the kind of references that you need. Be specific with the candidate about whom you want to speak with. Here’s what we request from candidates as a reference:
- Two former bosses or managers — Be sure you speak with someone who has managed your candidate. They will be a good guide to how the candidate responds to motivation, work ethic, etc. (more about that later).
- A customer — This is especially important when hiring a salesperson. You want to see how your candidate comes across to prospects and customers. Top salespeople will be happy to give you a customer reference. They are proud of their accomplishments and many times these relationships last long after the sale is made.
- A peer — This is not as important as the manager or customer, but a peer can give you valuable insight as to how your potential employee works in a team environment. And, even though you may be hiring an individual contributor who may be in a remote office, remember that she has to fit in with the rest of your team. This type of reference is especially important when you are hiring in a marketing department, for example, where one person’s work directly correlates to another’s and meeting deadlines may depend on close cooperation.
If a candidate cannot give you three business references (especially a candidate who has been working for more than five years), you have reason to be suspicious. And, as a rule, we accept no personal references.
Ask the Right Questions
Years ago (longer than I care to admit!) when I started my sales career, one of the best managers I ever had told me, “Ask the right questions and you’ll get the right answers.” This is not only true in selling; this is true in reference checking as well.
When I am called on as a reference, I am always amazed at either how general the questions are (e.g., “So, how was Mary to manage?”) or how irrelevant they are (e.g., “Did you enjoy working with Mary?”). I wish I was kidding about these. Bad questions will get you bad answers.
Be more specific in your questions. Ask questions like:
- How long have you known the candidate?
- Were you involved in the hiring process or did you directly hire the candidate?
- Did they report to you directly or dotted line? Please describe your relationship with the candidate.
- Did the candidate consistently hit or miss goals/quotas?
- Would you say the candidate made a substantial, average, or below average contribution to the organization? Please describe the reasons for your answer.
- How well did the candidate perform under stressful conditions, such as facing sales or project deadlines?
- How well did the candidate deal with any organizational or management changes that took place or any customer sales or service issues?
- Were there any areas that the candidate excelled in? Any particular strengths? Please be specific.
- Conversely, are there any areas that the candidate could use improvement in? Any particular weaknesses? Please be specific.
Remember too that keeping your reference check in a conversational manner will boost the quality of information shared. Be sure to take the important step of establishing rapport with your reference to make him feel comfortable about sharing information with you.
After some phone calls getting answers to strategic questions, I made my pick. The new cleaning service has started and so far so good. Why, their references were as glowing as my shining office!