The Crucial Missing Step in Your Hiring Process

August 26, 2014

In your rush to hire fast and grow your team, make sure skipping past this crucial step doesn’t trip you up.

Yes, it often feels like the hiring process is never going to end. Between sourcing, phone calls, scheduling, and interviews, it can really seem like it’s dragging on. During the startup or expansion stage, where every hire is especially critical, by the time you find that perfect candidate you’re ready to get them in the seat and contributing as soon as possible. But in that rush, many companies miss out on what I think is the most important step: Conducting reference checks.

The Crucial Missing Step in Your Hiring Process

It’s always amazing to me how many companies will forego this crucial final step, especially considering how costly just one wrong hire can be. Think about it: You’re willing to interview candidate after candidate and spend hours conducting phone screens and sourcing, but why is it that when you get to the final step, you’re not willing to take 30 minutes for a reference call?
I get it — we’re all busy. But if you’re willing to invest in finding the right candidate, you should be invested in getting it done right the first time. The good news? It’s relatively simple and easy to conduct a good reference call. And those 30 minutes could just save you a bunch of time and money you can’t afford to lose.

How to Conduct a Good Reference Check Call

Before the Call

  1. Be clear: Tell the candidate specifically what kinds of references you are looking for. Obviously, they won’t be able to give you the name and contact information of their current manager, but if they’re not listing former managers, you should wonder why. When reaching out, define what kind of reference you’d like to get from them. Ex: “Can you please pass along the contact information of 2-3 professional references? Ideally, these will be previous supervisors.”
  2. Schedule the call: Save yourself and the person you’re speaking with the hassle of blind calls. Be considerate of your time and theirs by getting email addresses and scheduling time to speak. They’ll be better prepared to answer your questions and you’ll be able to manage your time a bit better. Plus, if it’s on the calendar, you may be more likely to actually reach them!
  3. DIY: It’s great to have additional resources within your company to get these one-and-done references over with. But remember, you’re the hiring manager. You’re the person who is ultimately deciding whether or not you want this person on your team. Therefore, you know what you do and what you don’t want to hear. It’s easy to pass these tasks off onto someone else, but taking the time to build your team the right way will really pay off in the end.

Conducting the Reference Check

  1. List your goals. What are you looking to get out of the reference check? Were there any red flags or hesitations you had during the interview process? Now is the time to clarify. We all assume that candidates list references who will give them a glowing review. However, candidates don’t always know best and, if you’re speaking manager to manager, it’s likely they’ll be as honest as they can with you. You can’t have a successful reference call if you don’t know what you’re hoping to learn about the candidate
  2. Have a purpose. I get it. You not only want to get off this call as quickly as you can, you also want to hear only positive feedback. At this point, re-starting or keeping the search going would be a major strain on resources (not to mention your mental health). But you’re not doing yourself or your company any favors by not really digging in or asking only yes or no questions you find on Google. Use open-ended questions that will allow the reference to elaborate on the experience they had working with the candidate. You should also tell them what role the candidate is in consideration for so they can provide specific insight and feedback as it relates to your opening!
  3. Shut up and listen! There’s no way you’re going to get a reference, good or bad, if you’re the one doing all the talking. Listen to what the reference is saying and how they’re saying it. Ask your question and give the reference a moment of pause. Let them think! As they answer, you should be listening for tone, inflection, response rate, and most importantly, what they don’t say. A popular and really effective way of ending the call is with the simple question: “Would you hire this person again tomorrow if you had the chance?” “YES!” is a lot different than “Sure.” Just listen and you’ll hear the difference.

Final Thoughts

Taking the time to conduct a reference check can mean the difference between making a hire and making the right hire. You’ll save yourself the headache of a bad fit down the road, and in the end it’s not that much time lost to ensure you’re completing this step!

Photo by: Mark Sebastian

Recruiter, Sales & Marketing

<strong>Katelyn Lagarde</strong> is a recruiter at <a href="">CloudHealth</a>. She was previously a Talent Specialist at OpenView.