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Inspire Success

Providing hints, tips and ideas that help you maintain high performing workplaces that are customer focussed and free of conflict

The Final Step.....Reference Checking

Rae Phillips - Friday, October 26, 2012

At a recent training session I sat with a group of HR professionals where we discussed the importance of reference checking and how references can really add value and be the final step of your recruitment process. However, the concern voiced around the table was that often the right questions are not asked and the wrong questions are asked during references being checked.

Reference checking is a very important part of the recruitment process and should be a step in your hiring process. In fact a decision to hire a new employee should not be finalised until after the reference checking is completed. A reference check is not a fishing expedition or a friendly chat or a chance to network ....it is a structured and important part of the recruitment process.

Some problems with how reference checks are being done that were voiced in our discussion included:

1. They are badly done rather than being of little value
2. The wrong questions are asked – this can mean discriminatory questions being asked or invalid  questions being asked
3. Probing is not done
4. Candidate provides referees rather than the company/employer stating who they want to obtain the reference from.

All of the above points are important and must be tackled but point 4 is certainly one that we at Inspire Success have seen happen a number of times and can really remove the value this step can add. A survey by Balance Recruitment earlier in 2012 revealed 4% of employees have used a fake referee. According to Balance Recruitment, which conducted a survey of nearly 1000 workers in the IT and finance sectors, 39% of referees are personal friends, suggesting references are often biased. In addition to the prevalence of overly-positive references, 4% of the workers surveyed admitted to providing a fake referee.
Reference - http://www.workplaceinfo.com.au/recruitment/problems-and-challenges/alarming-number-of-fake-it-references

Verify, a background check firm, wrote an article discussing that as many as 75% of CVs contain an inaccuracy. Some are fairly minor in nature, while others are serious mistruths and designed to tailor the CV to a specific job or to mask aspects of their background that are less favourable. “A candidate’s resume is their marketing tool to gain employment and hence they use it to portrait themselves in the best light possible,” Greg Newton from background-search firm Verify said.
According to Verify, the most common omissions or embellishments include:

1. Leaving out positions which are less flattering to their application
2. Modifying job titles to a higher level position than they had in reality e.g Executive when they were an Officer
3. Listing qualifications that were only commenced and not yet completed

Newton said every demographic is prone to the practice. “As a generalisation, the more mature applicants tend to leave out jobs early in their career and list qualifications not necessarily completed. Younger applicants are more prone to embellish their responsibilities,” Newton commented.
Full article reference - http://www.mpdpeople.com.au/2012/09/three-quarters-of-applicants-have-already-lied-to-you/

Reference checking is your way of confirming what was said in interview and what is on a candidate’s CV. So how do you improve your reference checking practice:

1. The Right Referee:
Often a candidate will provide you with two or three names for reference and these referees may be associates of the candidate rather than having managed the candidate. Be specific with the candidate about who you want to contact for reference. In some cases it can be valuable to check references from a 360 approach - Executives (one over one); Direct Manager; Peers; Direct reports; Clients and customers.

2. Competence based Reference Checking:
Often companies don’t use reference checks to assess competencies. The ideal recruitment process would include screening, interviews, testing and reference checking– and all of these stages well prepared and planned. By clearly defining key competencies for your open position and recruitment and then developing structured reference checking around these, the candidate’s competence can be identified and validated throughout the recruitment process.

3. The right person taking the reference:
Whether it's an external recruiter, the HR Manager or Direct Manager it is important that the same person does all the reference checks so the validity of the reference check will be variable. Also, the person taking the reference must have been involved throughout the full recruitment and understand the competencies that are important. They must also probe at reference stage if it is necessary, identify any inconsistencies and uncover any reservations (if any).

It is very important in reference checking that you have a business-related reason for asking for and using the information. Ask only questions that you can ask an applicant. Also, get the candidate’s permission to contact their referees before you action. Finally, remember that reference checking must comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity and Privacy Act. Reference checks are completed in confidence and only stakeholders involved in the recruitment process will have access to this information.

At Inspire Success we believe that past performance is often the best predictor of future performance, the best way to verify an applicant’s background and job suitability is to conduct a thorough reference check. Inspire Success are specialists in Recruitment and Selection and have vast experience  working with employers throughout recruitment processes for positions of all levels. Contact us for further information - raephillips@inspire-success.com.
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