Blog: Reference Check - a reliable & authentic filter?

Talent Acquisition

Reference Check - a reliable & authentic filter?

How to identify when the reference check process may be biased by the candidate's relationship with the referees
Reference Check - a reliable & authentic filter?

Current Scenario

A typical recruitment process entails carrying out reference check of the candidate under consideration. A lot of times, these so called professional references are given by the subject himself who is few miles away from the finishing line. The candidate would also take the voluntary pain of informing the referees that they can expect from his prospective employer.

The Standard Practice

The recruiter would call up the referees with the standard set of questions and would end up finishing the discussion in the shortest time possible. While taking the inputs, he would keep his fingers crossed for all the hard work he has done to get this process so far.

Some Insights & Caveats from a hypothetical Conversation

Conversation 1

Recruiter: How is the candidate for this specific role?
Referee: Excellent resource

Recruiter: How do you assess his potential to grow?
Referee: High caliber resource. Should grow quickly within few years.

Recruiter: Please share some of his strengths.
Referee: A, B , C , D etc etc etc

Recruiter: Please share some of his weaknesses
Referee: A long pause and then hmmmmm well I really don’t recall any major shortcoming in the person.

Recruiter: Any idea why he left you?
Referee: Better opportunity / higher level designation/ higher Compensation

Insight 1 – If the candidate was really so good why did you let him go for a better opportunity? Which good company would like to lose a high potential resource?

Insight 2 – Which resource is perfect? No weaknesses only imply how well the referee knows him or how well he is trying to present him.

Conversation 2

Recruiter: Trust there are no integrity issues with the prospect.
Referee: Not at all.

Caveat- Lot of companies have this philosophy of showing a termination as a normal separation and not revealing the actual reason for terminating the employee. The response may not be valid and true.

Conversation 3

Recruiter: Tell us about any of his achievements while working with you.
Referee- Well! There are many. He exceeded the deliverables, turned around the territory, was top performer in the team ….

Insight – We are living in a corporate scenario where a top performer would be typically rewarded differentially in terms of compensation and promotions then why would he leave.

While specialized background verification agencies can verify credentials and validate information provided by the candidate. Their validation scope is only limited to hard data and facts furnished by the candidate like academic credentials, employment history, domicile check etc.

The real challenge is to go beyond this static information and get a sense of behavioral norms and personality traits that truly define this candidate.

From a Psychological Lens

Low Stake Behavior for the Referee: Why spoil somebody’s career opportunity?
Giving a positive reference feedback will only strengthen my relationship with him.

In future, the candidate could be of some professional help.

High Stakes for the Candidate
Any negative feedback can spoil the golden career opportunity

Reference check inputs also speak about the image and reputation of the candidate in the market. A positive reference check is important from candidate’s long term perspective.

Stakes for the Recruiter

Expectation that a prospective recruit on whom so much time and efforts have been spent should perhaps turn out to be a positive hire for the position.

Any negative feedback can derail the recruitment process of this candidate and recruiter will have to find alternate options.

Choosing the Source

Reference Check from Random sources:

It may risk the current employment of the candidate.
The inputs may be colored from the individual relationship or experience the referee shares with the candidate

Reference Check using your network:

It is a good way to take an opinion from your trusted resources who know this candidate and can be relied on for maintaining confidentiality.

Some Tips:
  1. Even before getting into the Reference check discussion, it helps to validate the Referee credentials through professional networking sites like Linkedin.
  2. As per the practice, reference check is by and large done from people who are working at higher levels than the candidate under consideration. It will help to employ a 360 degree approach and also take feedback from peers and subordinates of this candidate.
  3. Validating the company application form against the details obtained through various sources can throw light on discrepancies if any.
  4. In case, a recruiter is taking references from the candidate directly, it would help to clearly set the criteria and specifications of the referees chosen. For example.
    1. The referee should have known you professionally for at-least 1 year.
    2. The referee should have evaluated your performance formally
    3. The referee should not have had any personal association with you like a class-mate, school mate, alumni, relative or history of working as team mates.

While there is some degree of subjectivity associated with a reference check, a smart recruiter can find ways and means to make the feedback more objective, valid and reliable.

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Strategic HR, #HRInsights

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