Reference Checks: Versatile and Profitable

Properly conducted reference checks can be one of the most versatile tools for building your business and increasing profits. Good referencing techniques provide you with instant credibility, the opportunity to close more deals and increase your flow of job orders/search assignments, as well as providing an opportunity to gain recruits and referrals. Virtually no other activity can produce the same variety of positive outcomes.

Reference checks provide an opportunity to demonstrate your thoroughness and professionalism in an atmosphere that differs dramatically from that of a typical sales or recruiting call. Although they will never take the place of well executed sales/recruiting calls, they should nevertheless be an important component of your planned daily activity. Therefore, when interviewing your candidates, ask yourself:

“Who can I reference this candidate with that can give me the information I need to properly market them; as well as serve as a potential source of job orders/search assignments, referrals or recruits?”

Make certain that your candidates know you will be checking their references (see TFL – 11/05 – “Truth of Consequences”). Try to gain at least six reference names from each candidate interviewed. The names provided should be previous supervisors, peers, or others who know them in a business sense. You may not call all of them, but the more names you have, the more contacts you can make. The more contacts you make, the greater the potential for positive results.

Remember

Most clients and recruiters consider reference checking as a task rather than an opportunity. Consequently, their approach to it tends to be mechanical if not altogether haphazard.

Herein lies the opportunity to truly differentiate yourself on a qualitative basis, particularly if you conduct a behaviorally based reference check.

Most recruiters follow a structured format when conducting reference checks. Their form generally contains from twelve to fifteen questions. While this is certainly better than “flying by the seat of their pants,” it does not provide the indepth information that can be attained through a behavioral approach to questioning. As an example, let’s consider a standard question that appears on most reference check forms.

“What would you characterize as his/her strong points (strengths)?”

Not a bad question but if you allow the answer to be restricted to a short list of bullet points, its value will be limited. However, if you ask the question in a behavioral context, the value of the answer can increase dramatically.

Remember

The key to asking behaviorally based questions lies in the layering and sequencing of the followup questions.

Framing the same question in a behavioral context might look similar to the following.

“What would you characterize as his/her strong points (strengths)?”

“Can you provide me with a specific example of how he/she used this strength on the job?” (Probe for examples on each strength)

“In measurable terms, how did this impact his/her performance?”

“Were there any specific instances where these strengths may have been detrimental to his/her performance on the job?”

“How did he/she respond to these situations?”

“Were you satisfied with how they handled it?”

“In what manner does he/she continue to build on these strengths?”

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These questions are merely examples. Depending on how they respond to your initial question, you may need to modify your followup questions or, in rare instances, you may not even need to ask them. Nevertheless, review the current structure of your reference check form. You might be surprised at how easy it would be to layer and sequence appropriate behaviorallybased questions in followup to the standard questions on your form.

Remember

While taking the reference, be alert to specific areas that may require more detailed probing. You do not have to limit yourself to the questions on the form. Pay attention not only to what is said but also how they are saying it. Much can be learned from the sound of their voice. Expand the reference whenever necessary. Maintain an aura of curiosity.

It is through the followup questions that you will gain the most useful information. Consequently, prior to conducting the reference, you need to know the relationship of your candidate to the individual you are calling. This relationship, together with your purpose for conducting the reference should determine the nature and scope of the behavioral questions you need to prepare.

Once you have developed behavioral questioning skills, each reference will be uniquely tailored to meet your needs. In addition, you will learn to ask behavioral questions spontaneously, based on how the individual you are calling responds to your initial inquiries. Achieving this level of mastery will definitely separate you on a qualitative basis in the view of the individuals you are calling, most of whom will have never experienced a reference so thoroughly or professionally completed. That is why an opportunity exists for you to leverage this positive impression and gain more than just useful information on your candidate.

However, much depends on how you close the reference. You should be appreciative of their time and ask what you can do for them in return. Here is an example of what you might say in concluding a reference with a potential client.

“(Employer), I want to thank you for your time in verifying this reference on (Candidate’s name). As you have seen, I am very thorough with my process as this allows me to bring to my clients only the best talent to meet their needs. As an employer, I am confident you can appreciate the value of this approach. Therefore, please understand that when I say ‘thank you’ it is sincere. I couldn’t do my job without the cooperation of professionals such as you. In return, can I be of any service to you or your company?”

Expressing heartfelt appreciation is an example of professional courtesy. However, you still have to ask for the business (see last sentence). You just demonstrated your capability and professionalism at a level that may not have been experienced by this employer in the past. What better time to offer your services. Build on the positive impression you have created and, to reinforce it further, send a brief, handwritten thank you note (echoing your appreciation and once again, offering to be of service) along with your business card.

Although you need to modify the questions to some extent when referencing a peer or coworker, a behavioral questioning approach will generally create the same results. In closing this type of reference, consider saying something similar to the following.

“(Individual’s name), I want to thank you for your time in verifying this reference on (Candidate’s name). As you have seen, I am very thorough with my process. This has proven to be the most effective approach to use in representing my candidates. As a professional, I am confident you can appreciate the value in this. Therefore, when I say ‘thank you,’ it’s sincere. I couldn’t do my job without the cooperation of individuals such as you. In return, is there any way that I can be of any service to you?”

Regardless of whether or not the individual you are calling on the reference can be a source of job orders/search assignments, recruits or referrals, remember to always be sincere with your “thank you” and to followup with a thank you note and your card. You may be surprised by the profitable results in the short term. Additionally, the cumulative effect of this process, over time, will definitely add a dimension of sustainability to your business. After all, you are utilizing one of our industry’s most versatile tools.

If you have questions or comments on this topic, or suggestions for future articles just let me know. Your input is always welcome.

Terry Petra is one of our industry’s leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including “Petra On Call”, visit his web site at: http://www.tpetra.com/. Terry can be reached at (651) 7388561 or email him at Terry@tpetra.com.

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit www.tpetra.com. Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.

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