Some companies work to develop a culture that their staff love and want to protect. The result is higher productivity, profitability, and retention of Top Talent. This culture makes it difficult for Recruiters outside of their company to recruit their Top Talent.

Many of these companies understand the importance of following all of the due diligence to verify and validate their discoveries during their interviewing process.

How Should We Verify and Validate Candidate Information?

The proper process includes running a background investigation to determine if they worked where they claimed with the title they claimed and if they have any felony convictions (Be careful, check with your State laws to ensure they have not prohibited this question – 33 states have what is known as “Ban-The-Box laws” with varying conditions).

Secondly, does your State allow drug testing? Some states follow Federal guidelines, most other states have some policy in place – generally, after notification of the drug testing requirement and the person is identified as an applicant for the position.

Where Does Reference Checking Fit?

What is the danger of hiring a person who does not fit your company culture? The wrong employee in a decision making position may poison your company culture. For instance, if your company culture is one of your teams that build consensus; and, you hire a manager who makes the decisions without working with a team to build consensus, how will that person impact your current culture? This is simple – your culture and employer brand will first become diluted. Then your culture will change to the new culture. How will that new culture impact all of the Top Talent with corporate intelligence?

Reference checking is THE TOOL to assist a company with their hiring decision and to determine that while the candidate has the skills and experience to succeed in the position, do they fit the culture of your company?

When members of a company tell me at an event that they cannot seem to find good cultural fits, I ask, “What questions do you ask during reference checks?” Invariably, they look at me in disbelief and say, “We do not DO Reference Checks!” Why not? “Because Corporate Counsel says we can get sued!” In most states, a company May Not be sued if the information in a reference check is true. Generally, I respond that almost Everything a company does may result in a lawsuit – product liability, service liability, managers asking illegal questions during interviews, etc. You cannot stop working because you are afraid of being sued.

What Questions Do You Recommend We Ask?

Let us assume the person whose references you are checking is a professional. After the Manager is taught how to properly conduct a reference check interview, they will know to briefly discuss the role the candidate will fill. This information is valuable for the person who is the reference to help them frame their response to your questions.

Then proceed to ask skill questions, particularly on key aspects of the role. For instance, you may ask the reference if they ever witnessed the candidate using one or more skills? Describe the situation. How was their performance? Do you feel they met or exceeded your expectations? Follow through the important skill and experience questions. Now that you have the reference comfortable, it is time to ask the questions that lead to Culture/Manager fit.

  1. “When Elisa faces a challenge as a manager of a team, does she solve the problem and move on – or does she go to her team to elicit their thoughts, build consensus, and then decides to use the solution they all created?” There is no right answer to this question. It depends on your company culture. This is true of the balance of these questions.
  2. “How does Mary handle conflict?” If she goes into a corner and sulks, it is valuable information.
  3. “What frustrates John?” Wait for the response. The follow-up question is, “How does he handle frustration?” Again, if he is frustrated by micromanagement – and his manager is a micromanager, this is not a good fit.
  4. “How would you suggest I manage Jane?” I have received great information with this question – “Tell her what you want and get out of her way” is one response. Another has been, “She tends to try too hard to please everyone – and does not know when to say she is overloaded.” You may see why I recommend this question.
  5. “Where do you feel Bill needs to improve to be a great fit for this position?” Asking this question before the question, “What do you feel are Bill’s strengths relative to this role?” is an opportunity to receive a candid response where Bill needs to improve.
  6. “What other information do I need?” This is an open ended question intentionally. If the reference asks what you are looking for, respond “Just wanted to see if I missed anything.” The responses I have received to this question have absolutely nailed this is the perfect candidate – and on other occasions, gave me information that determined the candidate was not a good fit.

What Is The Science Behind Reference Checking?

If a Recruiter or Human Resource Manager calls an Executive for a reference on a candidate, the Executive generally is congenial. Unintentionally, many times they treat the conversation as an Adult/Child conversation, only revealing what they feel the person may be able to handle.

If the Manager of the position calls the Executive for a reference on a candidate that will report directly to them, the conversation will tend to be an Adult/Adult conversation, where the reference is very candid. Why? Some day they may want to check on someone who uses the Manager as a reference. They will want the straight scoop.

These conversations truly are effective in determining cultural fit.  Do you agree that it is important to verify this information before hiring a candidate?

But What If They Are Friends Of The Candidate?

In my 40 years of professional recruiting, you will occasionally get a friend who lies for the candidate. However, and this is important, a true Friend wants the candidate to be successful in their new position. They are sometimes more forthcoming in their responses. Many times, after describing the role, I hear, “You know, I really do not feel this is a good fit for Alexander.”

When you ask open ended questions, it is more difficult for the reference to move the discussion in one way or the other.

What Else May We Miss If We Do Not Check References?

All humans are conditioned by the forces that we face. It is fairly common knowledge that many companies eschew reference checking. Occasionally, a candidate will list references who were former managers, knowing they will not be contacted.

There have been 4 instances when I called a reference and told them who used their name – and the REFERENCE Burst Out Laughing! “I cannot believe they used my name!! I fired them 2 weeks ago!” True story.

Our Company Determines If Cultural Fit is Important

Reference checks began as an informal call from one manager to another. Human Resources intervened and took that responsibility. Then, over time, most shortened the reference check to name, rank, and serial number – not very helpful for determining Cultural Fit.

This is a manager’s responsibility to conduct the reference check. They will work for 2080 hours minimum with that new employee for the year after they start. Is it not worth an hour of their time to make the right hire? I believe so.

I Can Train Your Staff to Interview More Effectively and Conduct Proper Reference Checks

If you would like a conversation on how to ATTRACT talent instead of using an Applicant Tracking System or HRIS to screen them out, we should chat. Call me directly at 435-714-4425 (mountain).

I am available to consult with your company to improve your Top Talent Attraction strategy. Attracting and integrating Top Talent gives your company an industry edge. The process is worth the effort by improving productivity, innovation, and profitability – Look at Google, Tesla, SpaceX, and Apple. Retaining Top Talent keeps your industry knowledge inside your company – instead of with the competition.

The RecruiterGuy.com Top Talent Attraction business model is my differentiator.  I focus on one client at a time and charge a flat monthly fee.  This model enables me to attract new talent to your organization while identifying and suggesting improvements to your company’s Talent Attraction process, including Manager Interview Training.  https://recruiterguy.com/

Learn how I coach my Career Transition Clients in my most recent book – Employee 5.0: Secrets Of A Successful Job Search In The New World Order  http://amzn.to/2D9w39f  My book includes an appendix with action verbs and sample interview questions.

I help organizations Recruit, Onboard, Actuate, and Retain Top Talent.

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Bill Humbert is available for Speaking, Talent Attraction Consulting, and Training contracts.

Bill@RecruiterGuy.com  435-714-4425


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