Thursday, October 08, 2015

The importance of doing reference checks (2/2)

This is part two of Jenny's article about the importance of reference checks. If you haven't read the first part yet, start here.

Last time we spoke about WHY you should do reference checks and what impact a bad hire can have on your organization. In this second part I’d like to share my personal experience as well as some outcomes that have recently been discussed within the Point Nine family around the HOW.

General thoughts on the HOW:

  1. If you do reference checks, make sure they are one of the last steps of your recruitment process. Because if you do them right (I’ll explain further what that means) it will cost you time. You want to make sure that time is invested in the right candidate.
  2. The number of reference checks people do varies greatly between 1 to 15 checks per person. You want to find inconsistencies within the feedback you receive about the person. Depending on how senior the candidate is, ask for more references. A good start is 2 references for junior/entry roles that you want to increase to 3 to 5 references for middle management positions and 6 to 10 references for a senior leadership position.
  3. Make sure you have a mix of suggested references by the candidate as well some that you happen to know or you proactively approach to give you feedback. A good way to start is with the suggested ones. You can ask those guys who else they find you should talk to. Make sure you still top that up with your own research e.g. via LinkedIn or your personal network.

Now how to do them well?!

  • Have questions prepared. Make sure you know what to ask rather just go for the “So, tell me something about John” kind of question. Ask specific questions about the candidate. Remember, you want to find inconsistencies! Don’t be okay with foggy answers, worst case rephrase the question.
  • Try to establish a relationship with the reference you are talking to. Do a video call if possible and try to avoid written references. Take your 2-5 minutes small talk time at the beginning. Why? It’s much harder to lie into your face when I like you :)
  • Don’t only ask direct peers. It’s much more interesting to talk to people e.g. that got fired by that person (they are usually much more honest and open) or in general someone that has worked below him and got directly impacted by that person. A good mix of people above, around and below works quite well!
  • Obviously try to avoid asking someone at the current company the person works unless he got recommended by the candidate.
  • A good way to challenge the integrity upfront is to ask the following question once you’ve received the suggested references: “Would you mind If I talk to Peter, Fran and George as well”? Watch the reaction closely!
  • Always remember: You hire someone for his strengths not lack of weaknesses so tailor your questions about the strengths you are looking for and make sure that you weigh the feedback you receive according to what you really need. Example: Reference says: “Steve, in his role as Head of Sales, was too pushy in his general approach and sometimes went too fast for the Executive Team and the organization, so it was really hard to follow”. This is generally not the best feedback, but if your company is currently trying to attack a market, someone like Steve might be just the right fit for this period of time ;)

Here are some random questions that might be helpful for your day to day reference check. I usually use a mix of those and tailored ones to the specific candidate and role. Remember we’re trying to find inconsistencies, so use a good mix of questions for every reference check.

Some general questions that I find helpful:

  • What is your relationship with Peter like?
  • What was it like to work with Peter?
  • What was Peter’s management style like?
  • Can you describe a tough/very challenging moment Peter was in and how he has managed to get ouf it?
  • If you think about the time you and Peter have worked together, what’s the first memory that pops up your mind?
  • Would you say Peter is more a team player or does he excel more when he’s on his own? Can you give a specific example for it?
  • Would you describe Peter as a hands on person?
  • Do you regret that Peter has left your company? Why?
  • Should I hire Peter? Why?

There is plenty of reading out there with good stuff on that topic. One post that I can highly recommend is Mark Suster’s post “How to make better reference calls”.

What are your thoughts? What are your favorite questions that you use in reference calls to cut through the bullshit politeness?

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