References are an important part of any hiring process as they make sure your candidate can actually do what they say and that they aren’t just making up impressive job titles, by confirming their skill set with past employers. But how reliable are the references applicants give? Learn how you can utilize references to your advantage, and how to tell which ones to disregard.
As you start digging into the reference section of a resume, it’s important to understand the reference’s connections to the candidate. In most cases, these ‘formal references’ have been pre-screened, and will only have good things to say. You wouldn’t invite your nemesis to introduce you to a crowd and the same principle applies here.
Keeping this in mind, informal references (or people not listed on a candidate’s resume) can give context to the formal ones. These contacts are more prone to include all the details with less editorializing because they weren’t prepared beforehand. You must be extremely careful using informal references; you don’t want the individual to blow the whistle on a candidate’s job search or cause trouble. Make sure you trust this unlisted source and stress the confidentiality of the situation.
This doesn’t mean formal references should be ignored. Keep in mind that these contacts were hand-selected, and may have prepared answers to your questions. Knowing this, don’t ask one question and move on, peel back the onion and get past the prepared answers for a true insight into the candidate.
Asking complex questions not only vets the candidate, but their references as well. You want someone who knows what the applicant is capable of, not someone who knows them from happy hour. Ask detailed questions and listen for hesitation, then ask for more explanation. Frame questions in a unique way to get facts, not a prepared answer. For example, don’t ask about weaknesses, ask what the individual would coach the candidate on. If you keep a keen ear, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge from formal references.
Using Other Data
References can be a valuable tool in helping vet an applicants resume and skills. But, you should never rely on them exclusively. Understanding that the hiring process requires many data points put together to make a decision, not just one pivotal qualification, is critical. Educating yourself about the candidate and intelligently using their references to augment their resume, (while not defining it) will help your company find the perfect fit.
If you read the article above and have any questions about candidate references, or any other area of recruiting, contact the Talance Group at 713-357-9565.