The Importance of Checking References

Posted on May 9, 2013.

Every year, I have at least 3 or 4 people call to ask if I’ll be a reference.  Only about a third of the people actually call me.  And when they do, they don’t ask very insightful questions.  A recent  Globe & Mail  article does a great job of phrasing questions in such a way that you're really going to get at what your candidate was really like.

When I ask people why they don’t bother with this important step in the hiring process, I get the same response, “ Why bother? I know the people they give me are just going to say great things?”  Here’s why you need to bother:

  • You need to find out if they’re honest.  Shockingly, people actually do lie on their resumes. Were they actually a project leader or just part of a team? How do you know if you don’t check? Did they really exceed their goals every year?
  • You need to find out if they fit your culture.  Do they work best in a structured or loose environment? Do they work independently or only with specific instructions?  Depending on the answers to these and other questions, you can determine if they would fit well with the culture of not only your company, but your team. He or she may fit perfectly on paper, but culture will determine if they stay or leave.
  • You need to find out how they handle pressure and criticism.  Even the best employees will find themselves in a difficult situation. Understanding how your candidate reacts to these situations is critical to a) you ability to manage them and b) their ability to get along with others.  Using the insightful questions in the Globe article will help you determine this.
  • You need to know if they demonstrated growth. It’s one thing to just come in and do your job, but wouldn’t you want to know if the person started out in one place and advanced quickly to the next.  In today’s world, you need to find people that can adapt to change and grow with the increasing demands of the job. 

As the article points out, it’s not good enough to just call a reference and say,” describe their strengths and weaknesses”. But if you ask the questions correctly, you will quickly determine if it’s the right candidate for you position.  After all the time and effort you put in to getting to this point, don’t forgo one of the most critical steps