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Off the Record: A reality check for reference checks



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I received a call yesterday from an employer doing a reference check on a former employee, who is on the job hunt.

This particular employee didn’t exactly leave the job on the most positive terms, so I was surprised to receive an enquiry and was confused as to why this former staff member had listed me on their CV.

But I quickly realised this wasn’t the case – the recruiter had simply done a good job of tracking me down (it’s not hard) to get a full and thorough background check from someone who, in all likelihood, the employee didn’t want them to speak with.

This is an excellent example of taking the extra steps to reference check, but I am constantly amazed by the number of employers who don’t complete the very simple (and easy) task of tracking down more formers employers.

Because, let’s be honest, which employees actually write down all their references? There’s a reason they’re leaving their previous job, and there’s always someone they probably don’t want you to speak with about that.

As their next employer, you really should be trying your hardest to speak with that person.

It’s not that all job seekers are trying to hide something, it’s simply that they’re only going to point you in the direction of the people who have the best things to say about them. This is all well and good, and you want to hear the good things, but it’s not the full picture.

When you connect the dots (usually through LinkedIn or by putting in a couple of quick phone calls) and track down a candidate’s real former direct report – not just the one listed on the CV – you instantly get a broader idea of that person’s work ethic, personality and capabilities.

Also, people are generally more honest when caught off-guard.

I’m not saying it’s your job to set your targets on finding out the bad stuff about someone – it’s up to the referee to tell you what they want to – but it’s about covering your bases and feeling confident in saying, “I have done a good job in hiring this person”.

It sounds so obvious to tell you to properly reference check, but when you get a “star” sitting in front of you, it’s easy to forget to go down the proper channels and move too fast to peek into their background a bit more.

I’ve heard of a number of cases where an employee has left a company on negative terms, only to find out they’ve landed another job without the former employee even having so much as a phone call about that person.

It just makes me wonder whether that employer would have made a different decision otherwise. Maybe not, but why not cover your bases?

Of course, it’s up to each employer to decide whether they want to go down the reference/background checking path – but with today’s talent pool overflowing, you should want to make sure you fish the best out.

What do you think? Have you learned your lessons from poor reference checking? Get in touch with me atrebeccal@humanresourcesonline.net

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