Excellent Reference Checks – How to bullet proof your hiring process

Lately I’ve found that the art of making the right hire comes down to the quality of your reference checks.

If you really want to improve your hiring process, first I highly recommend Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart & Randy Street. In it, they give you a comprehensive overview of an easy to follow process that is guaranteed to increase your hiring success. In particular, they focus on the reference checks and it’s correlation with the “outcome” you expect from the role your candidate will fill.

So what’s the hidden secret? Don’t focus as much on the job description but rather on a detailed S.M.A.R.T. outcome that you will be able to hold your candidate accountable to.

During the interview process, ask very specific questions related to the successful outcome you expect of the role. Ask for examples where your candidate has proven their skills & performance before. Let them openly know that you’ll be doing reference checks by saying something like “in situation “X” what will your former employer tell me about your behavior & performance under pressure”?

Having completed the interview, now you’ve come to possibly the most crucial part, the reference check. Armed with your S.M.A.R.T. outcome criteria, proceed to ask former employers & colleagues for specific examples of how your candidate demonstrated their skills & attributes.

Assuming our candidate’s name is “Joe”, let’s ask the following questions

  • In situation “X”, please share with me 2-3 specific examples of how Joe’s behavior affected both his direct & indirect colleagues
  • What were Joe’s biggest strengths?
    • Can you please elaborate on that please?
    • Can you give me examples of how he manifested these strengths?
      • How they impacted your operations or organization?
  • What were Joe’s areas for improvement & how did he develop these?
    • How did Joe take criticism?
  • When Joe was faced with not achieving his agreed objectives
    • How did he deal with it (how did it affect his confidence and or mood)?
    • How did he handle the adversity?
    • How did he seek alternatives?
  • Can you share with me some examples of how Joe dealt with ambiguity?
    • How did it affect his concentration or motivation?
  • Please give me 2-3 examples where Joe had to go beyond himself to achieve required objectives
  • Please give me 2-3 examples of situations where you would considered Joe a good listener
  • Please give me 2 examples where Joe either lost, or was about to loose, his temper
    • What was the provocation?
    • How did he handle himself?
    • If he reacted inappropriately, how did he make reparation with the affected parties?

All of your questions should solicit clear examples so that you can imagine Joe in your own work environment. The questions are purposefully open-ended yet guided to obtain detailed responses. Based on the responses you should delve deeper to really identify as best as you can how Joe will behave in similar circumstances once he is executing on behalf of your company.

Ask allot of “How? What? & Tell me more”. Your reference check is your proving ground of how Joe will most likely behave in your own organization, so whatever you do, don’t shortcut this part of the hiring process!

Finally, whilst your conducting your reference checks, lookout for the “um’s & er’s”, which are code for unspoken problems! If you’re still unsure, ask the following closing question; “if you had the opportunity to hire Joe again, would you enthusiastically hire him? Why, or why not?

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