Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Other Side of a Bad Reference Check

I think that most knowledgeable Recruiting and HR types would agree that reference checks are largely a useless waste of time, certainly not an activity that typically adds much value to the employment process. If a reference check is done right, it sometimes may shed some light as to how the potential employee may best be managed. On a very rare occasion, you may get a nugget or two that might make you reconsider hiring an applicant.

Part of the problem of course is how the reference checks are handled in the first place. If you are going to make the time and effort to check a reference, the most effective strategy IMO is to train the hiring manager on how to do it. Give them a list of questions and educate them on how to ask effective follow up questions. This allows the manager to probe and identify information that may provide additional insight into the type of employee the manager wants to hire.

Much too often though, reference checking is seen as an administrative task, relegated to the HR Administrator, who is given a list of questions, is not well trained on how to do the reference, especially when it comes to probing questions. In these situations, the Admin wouldn't typically know what to probe on even if they were properly trained. I've even witnessed reference checks being e-mailed. Oy! The further the reference check gets from a real conversation between the hiring manager and someone who managed the applicant previously, the less value there is. The reference check for most organizations is simply another box to check when moving through the employment process, adding unnecessary time and effort, slowing down offers from being delivered, thus ultimately frustrating the end 'customers' (i.e. the applicant and the hiring manager).

Today's Washington Post Magazine offers a funny (and sad) view into what it can be like being the unfortunate 'Reference', in this case when that reference check is being conducted by an embarrassingly foolish HR fool. Read and beware, cringing may occur! (Free registration may be required.)


At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Michael Beaty said...

Wow. That was a pretty bad one.

We actually require our recruiters to conduct the reference check. Given their experience in the interview process and with probing questions, it works out well. They can also sometimes turn a reference into a networking opportunity.


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