While it doesn’t always seem like the most useful thing for recruiters to dwell on, professional reference checks are absolutely vital and ought not be taken lightly.
At the beginning of the process, you should have outlined the competencies required for success in the role – towards the end, it will be time to verify these competencies. That’s where references come in handy – only executive search experts deliver the results needed for a successful hiring process, and yet to be a search expert means to familiarize oneself with the ins and outs of reference checks.
Of course, it’s an instinct to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially if a candidate looks excellent on paper and in person, but this approach is potentially dangerous for recruiters and the company they represent. There’s only so much an interview can reveal about a person, so be sure to follow through on reference checks – you never truly know who you’re hiring.
Indeed, going right for a previous employer is probably your best bet, as they will likely know the candidate quite well as a person and a worker. Getting the details as to why this candidate no longer works for a former employer will speak volumes about them as an individual. This is perhaps the safest way to guarantee that the candidate is a good fit for the company.
Keep in mind that, as a recruiter, you are entitled to request the type of references with whom you would like to speak. This means that you can ask of potential employees for both personal and professional contact information.
Without specifying which type you’re interested in, you may just get three random personal references, for example. Be particular when it comes to these requests – if you want old bosses, you should say so. No doubt, these may vary according to industry, especially if the candidate is new to the field for which they’re applying. Nevertheless, it will be helpful in the long run.
Only specific types of references will be able to verify specific aspects of the candidate, be it their skills, education, experience, or past performance. This means that once you contact these references, you need to be sure you’re asking the right questions, without going out of bounds and being too specific or inappropriate (e.g. their personal lives are none of your business, ultimately). Make sure that the questions are not too broad, and that they cater to the specifics of the position and the candidate you’re inquiring about.
In short, verifying candidates by way of references is the final and most crucial step of a process designed to help you identify the candidate who will be the best fit for a particular job, as well as within the organization as a larger, organic entity. The reference check process is your first opportunity to gather data from a different perspective, so it’s in your best interest to take advantage of it.