Any business owner or HR manager knows that hiring staff is part of the job – but hiring great employees often results in far more business benefits than those that perform below expectations. Great employees can boost productivity, improve workplace morale, and ensure that you can rely on things to get done the right way.
But knowing the difference between who might become a great employee and who might not meet the expectation can be difficult to determine when interviewing applicants. This is one of the many reasons that employers request personal and professional references. Consistently and diligently checking these references is one way employers can validate that the prospect meets the job requirements and will be a good fit for the organizational culture.
Using background screening services in addition to checking references can help you to ascertain crucial information about the job candidate, such as:
- Whether their resume is factual. Some job applicants might think that small white lies or exaggerations that improve perceptions might go undetected, whether on their resume or spoken during an interview. If you are questioning something that the candidate either said or reported on their resume, it’s a good idea to verify the information with a reference.
- What their strengths and weaknesses are. Almost all job candidates expect the dreaded question related to what they perceive as their biggest weakness. It’s a standard interview question that can be skillfully responded to with preparation – even if the response isn’t accurate. Speaking with professional references can give you a far more candid answer regarding what they are good at and what still needs some work. Personal references are excellent here, too, since friends can often speak to one’s character more than co-workers.
- Get a feel for their reliability, competency, and work ethic. Character is essential, but it’s not the only element determining whether an employee will be a good fit. Previous employers and educational instructors can shed some light on the candidate’s quality of work and their ability to meet deadlines.
The information you can glean from personal and professional references is invaluable. Past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. If the references speak highly of the individual, it’s a good sign that they might have the qualities you are seeking. If they are reluctant to answer questions or don’t commit to firm responses, you may have an indication that the applicant might not live up to expectations.
References are also a great way to make a final decision after you have narrowed down the field of applicants. It can be hard to make a final determination when you have two or more qualified applicants whose credentials, history, and goals look great on paper. Having conversations with others can help you to make a final decision on which candidate is the better option for your organization.
Checking references is only one part of the equation, though. Following certain best practices and protocols when checking references can help to ensure that you get candid responses.
- Ask open-ended questions. If you ask simple yes or no questions, you might get a response, but the response could omit some vital information. Open-ended questions let the reference elaborate about what they think is essential information for a potential employer. You may even get stories or examples of instances where the person went beyond expectations. Open-ended questions allow the respondent to build context to convey greater understanding. And this understanding can give you far more insight than you will get with ‘yes or no’ questions.
- Provide context to the respondent. Providing context, such as describing the expectations of the position, will give references a starting point for determining whether the candidate has the right set of attributes and skills for the position. This information is vital if the job is very different from positions they may have held in the past. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean they won’t excel in it – provided they have the right traits to learn and perform well.
- Do not demonstrate negativity about the candidate. Even if you have concerns about the candidate or doubts about their reported skills and history, do not let your tone or words demonstrate this. If the reference is a dedicated friend or colleague, they may stop answering questions candidly as a show of loyalty.
Checking professional references through the background screening service process is a crucial part of hiring. It can highlight skills, traits, character, and deficiencies. It can also help you ‘weed out’ any applicant that is not truly qualified. The information collected about applicants during the reference checks can be priceless when determining who will be an excellent fit with your organization.