Reference off, confidence out.

Reference off, confidence out. 640 428 Boldandsharp

Whether candidates like it or not, reference checks are part of most hiring process.

There are a some exceptions. Some people hire former colleagues from their professional network and are well versed in recruitment subtilities, enough to assess cultural fit and whether past success can be replicated in the new environment.

Some people, under time pressure to fill an empty seat, fish in shallow waters and have obviously no time for checking references. Some trust sales agents and do not pay attention to the job-hoping syndrome that riddle the CV of their so-called champion: dazzled by the brilliance of company names the candidate used to work for, they will pay the bill later. And the cost can be very high.

Reference check is admitted and is usually not an issue. The problem is when reference checks are completed behind candidates’ back. We are not talking here about background checks. These require preliminary approval from candidates. If the job is sensitive enough to require criminal, public records searches, or minor infractions deeper investigation, that is fair. We are talking about behind-the-scenes reference checks.

That should not happen and here is why.

Reference check should be the conclusion of a structured process. Compared with a sales funnel, they should close your hiring process. Thus, they should never compensate for poor screening or superficial deep dive interviews. Like a closing step in sales, there should be no surprise but a confirmation of the strengths or areas of improvement you spotted during the hiring process. If solid doubts persist on the key success factors listed for the role, review your interview questions, and start asking the right ones before moving to reference check.

If behind the scenes references checking is your hidden extra closing stage to remove doubts, qualify better or qualify out early. Even more so since it can easily backfire. Your level of suspicion – or paranoia – may never leave you and may affect your future relationship with the selected candidate, especially under stress. Beyond working on the efficiency of your hiring process, overhaul your thinking and decision process. The world of managers and top sales people is a small one. While meaning no harm when contacting mutual connections behind their back on LinkedIn, candidates may soon realize that you breached the #1 unwritten rule set forth in any recruitment: trust.

Reference checks mutually agreed with candidates work well. Build the list of references together, suggest yours, and make sure the sample of references allow for up, down, and lateral reference check. Keep in mind they are more a final validation of the success factors and criteria assessed during the previous interviews. Set expectations with your references, ask the exact same questions where extra validation is needed, and focus on key success factors. Let them know you will need 20 minutes of their time, not 5 minutes: you are checking out, not checking in.

Of course, some surprises may occur, such as mixed or negative comments. Keep your mind and the discussion open. A sales leader may have ruffled some feathers while implementing his strategic plan. A sales executive may have closed a deal harder than he would have liked under management pressure. While the best actors’ self-confidence will plummet, Top candidates will have no qualms about going into further details about a negative review. They will be grateful for raising the issue and will proactively offer alternatives.

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