Reference checking remains a highly valuable, yet stubbornly inefficient phase of the hiring process. Given the restraints of modern-day hiring, there is little that can be done to force outcomes in this process. However, there are a number of ways to improve both the quality of references in general as well as the mode of efficiency in the collection process. Here are some of them:
1. Promote consistency across outcomes
Most organizations have a documented list of questions to ask during a reference call. The difficulty lies in measuring the outcomes, which are open to subjective judgment in the same way that interviews are. Some examples of biases that can influence the interpretation of a reference call are: the tone of the reference provider, the length of the call, the ease (or difficulty) in establishing contact, or the amount of unsolicited information provided during the conversation.
There are a number of creative steps that can be taken to promote consistency across the outcomes and remove some of the variability of interpretation that can muddle the decision process. One way to overcome this is to create a visual output that can be viewed and assessed by multiple personnel. Over time, practices like these should improve the ability of staff to make critical judgments of a candidate in a more streamlined fashion.
2. Perform reference checks earlier in the hiring process
Great references are becoming harder and harder to come across but remain hugely valuable when available. At the same time, insights that go beyond measuring an applicant’s skills to providing an assessment of personal character are largely only attainable through a reference checking process. To increase the likelihood of capturing these insights, move the reference-checking phase closer to the front of your screening/interview process. More reference checks (or, even more attempts) for more candidates means more information off of which to base your hiring decisions. Of course, finding ways to be more efficient in gathering this information is key to making this a feasibly sustainable change.
3. Allow job seekers to proactively manage references
Being up-front about the expectations that come with reference checks gives job seekers the added responsibility of delivering on those expectations. That responsibility, in and of itself, becomes another valuable filter to use in the screening process. At the same time, job seekers will inevitably pick up on the importance of establishing quality references before applying to a particular job.
In theory, this should lead to reduced instances of ‘reference checking phone tag’ – a time saver that will undoubtedly reduce placement cycle times.
4. Add transparency to the process
With limited or, merely, presumptive knowledge of the quality of a reference given on their behalves, job seekers remain largely in the dark when it comes to optimizing their portfolio of references and understanding how individual references are impacting their ability to get the jobs they are seeking. Adding transparency to the outcomes should perpetuate a higher standard of quality amongst references while providing critical feedback to job seekers who might otherwise be unaware of a reference that is handicapping their chances of being hired.
With this added transparency comes added accountability, which should lead to a higher frequency of higher quality references. This is another time saver, but, more than anything else, it’s also a path to making references more valuable than ever.