Bridge Insights

Revisiting the Reference Check

Feb 27, 2020

When it comes to assessing the character of an applicant, first impressions can only go so far.

Just as typing, word processing, phone etiquette, and conflict resolution are teachable skills, so is interviewing. Unfortunately, a great interview performance from your candidate does not automatically make them a top performer.

For businesses involved in finances and high-value assets, the integrity of your team members is tantamount to reducing risk and providing exceptional customer service.

That is where reference checks come in. Reference checks provide insight into the character of a potential employee in ways an interview can’t. Having conversations with those who have first-hand experience working with a potential applicant can help give better context to your interview with them.

Incorporate these 4 techniques into your screening process to effectively perform applicant’s reference checks and assess their character.

[blockquotes color=”highlight” quote=”yes”]Reference checks provide insight into the character of a potential employee in ways an in-person interview can’t. [/blockquotes]

1. Do Your Due Diligence

Sometimes people will list their friends and family members as previous supervisors to ensure a positive review. A quick cross-reference on LinkedIn or a visit to a business’ website to verify a combination of name, title, company and/or phone number will quickly snuff out any discrepancies.

2. Don’t Let Your Interview Influence Your Conversation

As humans, we naturally give legitimacy to our experiences over the experiences and opinions of others; however, being unable to recognize this while conducting reference checks is a huge pitfall for an accurate character assessment of a candidate.

Rather than approaching reference checks with an open mind, many employers will let the opinions formed during their in-person interview influence the information collected during a reference check.

Your own experiences should be considered, but if you have multiple people telling you a person has attendance issues, there may be some credibility to this –even if your applicant did show up 10 minutes early to your interview.

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3. Focus on the Facts

In the same way our personal experiences can lead us to unwittingly dawn rose-colored glasses, our personal experiences can also color a character assessment for the worse. When you are speaking to someone about an applicant, it is important not to let our interpretations of tonality influence the context of what we hear.

Be sure to give credibility to what someone says and not how they say it; after all, you do not know the conversational style of the person on the other end of the line.

4. What Questions to Ask?

In addition to verifying talking points from your interview with an applicant, conversations with references are a great way to inquire about less quantifiable components of an applicant’s value.

How well they work with others, level of assertiveness, organizational abilities, preferred management style, etc. should all be points of inquiry during an interview. We all have our blind spots, and an applicant’s perception of themself might not be the reality of how they are perceived.

Even though these are more abstract concepts, there is an art to asking the right questions to get what you are looking for out of a conversation with a reference. Avoid asking open-ended questions and try to ask for examples of situations that focus on integrity. Ask about EQ, how they handle stress, and other character insights that you may not have been able to fully glean from the short time spent interviewing an applicant.

Some examples are:

  • In what way(s) did he/she bring value to your business/team?
  • What was their most noteworthy accomplishment?
  • What additional training would they benefit from?
  • Would you rehire them? Why? Why not?
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A Long-Term Decision From a Short-Term Evaluation

Even though an applicant’s reference checks are typically one of the final steps of the screening process, they are one of the most important in assessing an applicant’s character. Executing reference checks as a formality leads to oversights on assessments of critical character qualities, like integrity, trustworthiness, compassion, and EQ.

Even though reference checks are a late-stage screening step, it is important not to go through the motions and miss out on valuable pieces of information.

Remember, even if your interview process is lengthy, in the grand scheme of things, this time is minimal when you are hiring for the long term at your business.