How to Improve Results of Reference Checking
One of the most important aspects of hiring a new employee is checking references. If you do it right, you can get more information than you planned to in the first place. This information might lead you to make better decisions when it comes to who you should and should not hire for a position. Keep in mind that there are laws that govern what can be said during a reference check, but you can still get very valuable information if you word your questions correctly and pay attention to the small cues that exist in every conversation.
Always check references right before you offer the position, but after the interview. If this person is currently employed you do not want to cause problems for them on their current job, especially if you end up not hiring them. You should also keep in mind that employers are human. They may have had personal issues with the employee that should not reflect on the reference, but may do so anyhow. Pay attention to every detail so that you can make a smart decision.
Sometimes you will be referred to the human resource department, but you should make every attempt to talk to the direct supervisor when possible. The human resource department will have all the dates and may have notes on any disciplinary issues that were present, but they may not have information on work ethic while on the job or other important information that you need.
Be careful when you formulate questions and leave plenty of room for expression. In most places the law prohibits former employers from making degrading remarks about former employees, but small signs will tell you a lot. Does the person you are talking to seem excited about the employee? Do they sigh or pause a lot as they answer questions? Is the tone of the person friendly in general and if so, does it continue to be friendly as they discuss the details of the former employee?
You may need to ask questions about the business itself to get more information about the employee without violating any laws. For instance, did the employee remain in the position they were hired for during their entire time? If so, was the business ever looking to promote someone from within the department during that time? They may not be able to tell you why that person never got promoted, but they can tell you if there even was an opportunity for promotion. In fact, most former employees may offer valuable information on their own. For instance, this particular person may never have gotten a promotion even though there was an opening. However, the person who did get the promotion may have been someone who was employed for ten years longer than the candidate you are discussing. This information tells you that the candidate was not disqualified from the promotion. Someone else just happened to be there longer and therefore was more qualified.
Sometimes the social cues are more important than the answers. For instance, if the conversation was friendly until you mentioned the name of the candidate, this could be a sign that the supervisor was not overly impressed.
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