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Checking a candidate’s references is an invaluable resource for hiring managers to learn about the candidate before making an offer. Reference checks offer you a chance to verify information the candidate provided, to learn more about them from another professional, and ultimately to see the candidate from an outside perspective. Even if you feel certain the candidate is a perfect fit, it is important to contact their references to confirm that feeling.

However, simply calling a reference may not always get you the results you want. In order to have a truly successful reference check, remember the following tips.

Ask Good Questions
A key aspect of checking references is asking the right questions. Ask ones that offer insight into the candidate’s abilities, both as a professional and as a cultural fit for your team. Don’t focus on questions with right or wrong answers; instead focus on questions that give a better feel for the candidate overall. Questions to consider are: “Would you describe the candidate as flexible?”, “Is the candidate motivated?”, and “What types of people did the candidate have difficulty working with?”.

Tone Matters
Subtle clues from the hiring manager can cause a reference to be less open when giving thoughts on a candidate. It is important to keep an even-sounding tone, free of skepticism or negativity, to encourage the most honest response from a reference.

Don’t Interrupt
Collect as much information as the reference is willing to offer by letting them speak to their heart’s content. Avoid interrupting them or cutting off their conversation to get a good feel for their tone and thoughts about the candidate. However, in this process, remember they are not the candidate—any long-windedness or poor conversation skills should not reflect poorly on the candidate.

Make the Call Yourself
If you see reference checks as just another step in the hiring process, it could be tempting to have other members of your team conduct the checks. Resist! You know the position you are hiring for best, and you know what you want to learn about each candidate. Once you are having the conversation with the reference, you may also discover that there is more you wish to discuss with them or additional questions to ask. If you do not call the reference yourself, you would have to go without this information or make an additional call, which wastes the reference’s time.

Alternative Resources
Some companies have strict policies about contacting references, which may hinder your ability to perform a thorough reference check. A few alternatives to gathering informal information on a candidate includes reaching out to professional associations, professional networks, and contacts on LinkedIn.

By performing your due diligence through good reference checks, you can be more confident in your hiring decision when the time comes to make one.


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