Checking a candidate’s references is all too often treated as a box-ticking exercise, viewed as an unwanted task that is rushed or palmed off to someone else to secure an employee faster. While reference checks can seem like an onerous task, evaluating a candidate before offering them a role could potentially save you time and money in the long run. As a key component of the IT recruitment process, checking references – when done properly – can provide a depth of insight into an applicant’s past work performance as well as cultural fit. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about best practice reference checking.
A Final Check
As a vital part of the decision-making process, checking references builds on the story from previous phases to provide a better picture of the individual. Regardless of how amazing a candidate may seem on paper, it’s a great opportunity to glean as much information as possible from an outside source and validate the reasons to hire.
Whilst checking a candidate’s references ultimately serves as a final sanity check before committing to a formal offer, it’s not purely for evaluative purposes. Through skilful questioning, they also offer insights that can assist employers with the onboarding and development of new recruits, ensuring a smoother transition into the team as well as organisation.
Start the Process Early
Due to the importance of reference checking, it is worth thinking about them early in the hiring process. Ask candidates at the first interview about who they would provide as references. Not only does this allow them to understand that it’s a compulsory component of their application but it also highlights that reference checks are valued and taken seriously. Interestingly, you may immediately detect possible concerns through their body language. If you notice hesitance or a reluctance to readily talk about the referees they wish to put forward, it might require further evaluation.
Remove Referee Bias
Typically, in an effort to increase their chances, a candidate will offer referees who will speak positively about them. To get a complete 360-degree view, remember to always ask for any development areas the candidate may have. Do they have any skills that need to be improved on? What type of projects do they believe the applicant should work on in the future? These types of questions will eliminate some of the bias that naturally creeps in.
Best practice reference checking means you have to ascertain the candidate/referee relationship in order to discern the reliability of their responses. Although speaking to a current manager would be ideal, this isn’t always a possible avenue. After all, most individuals wouldn’t want an immediate employer knowing of their plans to move before any offers are on the table. Whilst previous managers will still provide insight, depending on how long it has been, alternate options include contacting a manager who has recently left or offering the role on the condition of a favourable reference from the current manager.
Plan Your Questions Carefully and Take Notes
Think back to the core skills and competencies needed. The questions you have planned around these areas should prompt the referee to discuss the individual’s actual experiences and behaviour freely.
Rather than only listening to what is being said, pay attention to other tell tale signs. Take notice of any hesitations or pauses in response to certain questions. A lot of insight can be gained from the way a referee conveys their answers or the tone they use, which may not always be in line with what is being verbalised.
Lastly, don’t forget to take notes during the conversation. It’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet of all your reference checks and log the date and time of each, along with any notes for easy comparison.
Do Your Due Diligence
Checking a candidate’s references requires some due diligence. As part of your process, cross check the details of the referees to ensure they are indeed who the applicant says they are! This can be done in various ways, including:
- Contacting the referee’s landline directly.
- Utilising online platforms such as LinkedIn to vet the specifics, such as where the referee works and the job title to make sure they match with what the candidate has provided.
- If you’ve been offered a mobile number, it’s worth checking with the employer whether the mobile number you have on record is correct.
Whilst this sort of situation would be rare, if warning bells are going off, there is probably a good reason and may require further digging.
The importance of reference checks cannot be understated. The more information you have about a potential IT employee, the better placed you will be to evaluate their fit for the position as well as the business. If your organisation is guilty of treating reference checks as an admin burden or simply a box-ticking operation, then it might be the moment to invest more time in this part of the recruitment process.
If you’re looking for more reference checking advice, or for support with your IT recruitment, speak to the RWA team.