How to conduct a good reference check?

Asaf Halfon

Asaf Halfon

Asaf is Director of Video R&D Solution at Taboola. Joined Taboola at 2016 as part of ConverMedia acquisition, where he was the VP R&D. He is passionate about making things better, more efficient, taking care of people and getting things done.

Asaf Halfon | 30 May 2019 | Culture

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Every candidate we recruit goes through a long process of evaluation.
Near the end of the process, after we decided they fit our culture and have the skills we need, we have a reference check. Sometimes we take it as a formal phase in the process just to make sure they’re not a serial killer.
Actually a reference check is one of the more important stages in the process, let me explain why.

Think for a second of a recruiter that is going to recruit someone who worked with you. You know more about this person than any process.
If they could peek inside your head – they will get all the knowledge they need – much more knowledge than they got from their process.
Now, while you’re still in the place of the referee, think about how will you actually answer to a reference check. Most of the time, you will try to present a better picture than how it really was to work with this person.
Once you’ve become a referee, you will get more than one call.
After a few of those you will get tired of this process, and will try to make those calls as short as possible.

So, back to the recruiter position, what should you do to avoid such a scenario? a scenario in which the reference check didn’t help you, or even worse, made you hear what you want to hear instead of the parts you need to hear.

So how do we get the referee buy-in?
First, make sure the referee is available and explain the rationale behind this call.
For example, explain to them the importance of this call, explain that you are doing this call since you are positive about hiring the candidate.
Check what is the position of the referee. What was the relationship between them and the candidate.
Use this call also to validate their cultural fit and to understand how you can make their onboarding process as smooth as possible. Eventually we’re not saying if the candidate is good or not, we’re checking their fit to our organization.

Ask the referee to describe the person and their work experience with them in their own words. Listen carefully and try to find out what they really think about the candidate – not just what they say, but also how they say it (with confidence / enthusiasm / motivation to give this feedback, how detailed they are).

Ask for examples that demonstrate their feedback – you might interpret those examples differently.
Make sure you get both pros and cons.

Ask closed questions like:

  1. Why did they leave?
  2. Were they fired?
  3. What are the candidate’s weaknesses?
  4. How would you position them in the team (top /middle /bottom)?
  5. Would you hire them again?
  6. What they need to improve according to the last feedback you gave them?
  7. How long did you work together?

Try to clear things that you’re not sure about that came up during the process.
If you’re not getting anything valuable from the referee ask the candidate for a different one. (for example, because they didn’t work really close or something like that).
In case of a doubt – make sure the referee is real (you can ask them details about what they do, you can check them in LinkedIn).
Last but not least – be pleasant. The person you’re talking to is an ambassador for the company. You don’t know when your paths will cross and you want to leave a good impression.

So next time you’re doing a reference check, put yourself in their place, come prepared and make sure you remember this. It is the most important stage in your process.

Good luck!