Three Most Important Keys To A Successful Reference Check

Posted on May 3, 2018 by

In my experience,  I don’t think that enough time is spent on conducting proper reference checks.  Most companies continue to walk through the motions and “check off the box” that they conducted a reference call with former managers or co-workers.

Here are three keys to conducting a successful reference check that will help lead to better hiring decisions.


1.  Back Door Reference checks are more telling that the ones that a candidate will provide.   Leverage your network to find independent references.  Don’t just rely on the references supplied by the candidate. Use your social networks, especially LinkedIn, to see who you know in common with the candidate, and reach out to them for their insights.

In addition, broaden the pool of reference checkers to include other senior members of your team and your Board so you can leverage their networks as well. People you know and trust are more likely to provide candid answers.  Always assume that the references supplied by the candidate are going to be glowing or else they wouldn’t have provided them.

2.  Ask this one simple, but critical question – What is the one area that they could improve on?  It is amazing how honest references are when this question is asked.  Ask this question at the tail end of the interview after they have provided their glowing description of an individual.  They will be more comfortable sharing any areas for improvement because they have already shared so many positive attributes that they don’t feel guilty about bringing up something that isn’t a strength.  Oftentimes these areas of improvements aren’t “knock-out” concerns for the candidate but areas that can be probed further on to make sure there is a good fit.

3.  Don’t make the reference an after-thought.  Most employers already make up their minds before they go into a reference check.  This only leads to glossing over concerns instead of not emotionally committing to a candidate until the reference check is digested.  Using open ended questions and pushing back for specific details and examples will help with this process.

The hiring process can be a long and arduous process but it is important that references are conducted properly if you want to end up with the best possible employees on your team.


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Author's biography:

Ted co-founded KCM Solutions and now oversees all business development and client projects. Previously, he founded a financial staffing firm after working with a large investment bank. With passions in mountain biking and triathlons, he can often be found with bags of ice all over his body. When he isn’t training or onsite with our clients, he is still trying to figure out how to corral two, very active boys.

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