Do you outsource the reference-checking process to a third party or your administrative staff?
Are you asking “legal” type questions (eligible for rehire, dates of employment) and a few innocuous “Can you tell me the strengths and weaknesses?” type questions?
These old-school reference practices do little more than irritate the reference you are contacting.
If you have the correct reference contact and the appropriate information, you can get do better.
It starts with the candidate.
Explain to the candidate you have a vested interest in placing them. Let them know that the hiring manager expects us recruiters to say how wonderful our candidates are. Therefore, you need their help. Ask them:
Who is the most influential, senior-level person you know at your (past and present) place of employment that we would could contact and confirm all of the great things you?
Ask the candidate for specific examples as to how they saved or made the company money. Would their supervisor think they had a positive ROI? Why?
Examples of candidate statements:
For an accountant:
“In our accounts payable department I changed the contract terms with several vendors to 90 days, instead of 60 days, thus saving the company $50,000 in six months.”
Or for a technical developer:
“I developed a website which allowed customers to check the progress of their order. This reduced calls to our customer service line by 80%, thus reducing headcount and saving the company $50,000 per quarter.”
Also find out how the candidate would rank themselves against others who do the same sort of work — and why.
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Example of candidate statement:
“I would rank myself number 2 out of 10 people in the accounting department, because my work was extremely accurate and I was always asked to do special projects.”
After you secure the ROI statements, call the reference and ask them to confirm or comment on the statements.
“Mr. Supervisor, John had stated that he saved the organization around $50,000 by modifying the terms with vendors in the accounts payable department. Is that accurate?”
This takes the pressure off the reference. They don’t have to — on the fly — provide evidence as to how the employee contributed. The reference is less likely to push you to HR, because you are asking them to confirm statements, not create statements.
Lastly, ask the reference if they would be open to speaking directly to your hiring manager if needed.
Provide these ROI statements on the submittal! Instead of you saying that the candidate is great, the candidate’s supervisor(s) is providing the data. Imagine if you had a quote from the CFO saying the candidate saved the organization $50,000, strategically modifying the accounts payable terms.
We assume grownups go to work on time, and do not lie about their dates of employment. Such details can be confirmed by the HR department, but capturing ROI information from a senior-level supervisor can positively influence your hiring managers to make a decision.