yikesReference checking is often see as a formality, a transactional process that is handed down the line to junior HR staff once the exciting, tactical recruitment tasks have been completed.

This would be the first mistake in referencing – not that it is handed down the line – but that is considered a formality. It most certainly isn’t, as a recent CareerBuilder survey revealed. It showed that: 69% of employers said that they have changed their minds about a candidate after consulting a reference, 47% have a less positive view of the candidate and 23% had a more positive view of the candidate; with just 31% saying the references didn’t make any difference. So, it was only a minority of cases where references were just confirming what was already known (formality) and in the vast majority of cases they provided additional information which further informed and improved the selection decision.

According to that CareerBuilder study, 20% of employers admit to not checking references at all, which is the second mistake in reference checking, that is, ‘omission’. Research shows references add value by further informing the selection decision, and also it can help you to catch false statements by candidates, with 29% of employers stating they have found a fake reference on an application.

The third major mistake is accepting references from people that the employee has not been professionally accountable to. Many employees cite referees from associates and colleagues who they have not been accountable too as a subordinate or key customer. Only accept references from managers or employees who the employee can demonstrate clear accountability to for an extended period of time, as the data is likely to be both more reliable and illuminating.

Not cross referencing with LinkedIn or other social recommendations, where possible, is the fourth major mistake. Admittedly, social recommendations are not references in their own right; they are generic and are not specifically assessing their suitability to your role. However, you may be able to find consistencies or inconsistencies with your individualized references which reinforce your selection decision or lead you to seek clarification from the candidate.

Using social media as the primary source of reference information is the fifth major mistake. Do not be tempted to rely purely on social media profiles for reference information as, for the reason cited above, they are not references specific to your business so they are less targeted. Also, they may not be accurate. At this stage, it is best to be used as secondary information to verify reference information retrieved from a source approved by the candidate.

Not seeking a candidate’s approval for checking social media profiles is the sixth major mistake in referencing checking. It can be tempting to play detective and check social media profiles without the candidates knowing, but how do you know the information is up to date and accurate, especially if the information was not put on line by the candidate.

Not talking the reference through what you actually need and not asking them specific feedback on the candidate’s suitability for your role is the seventh major mistake in reference checking. It’s easy to adopt a generic referencing style, based on sick days, appraisal scores etc…, but surely it is also useful to get specific feedback from the manager on the specific ability of the candidate to perform key tasks required in the role or to exhibit certain required behavior. This is much more useful data.

Not providing the candidates with multiple means to complete the reference, e.g. face to face, phone, video conference, Skype chat, e-mail or letter, is the 8th major mistake in referencing. We all have our preferred styles of communication and if we appeal to the reference’s preferred communication style we are more likely to get a more substantial response faster.

Not considering reference data in the context of the rest of the recruitment data, is the 9th major mistake in referencing. It is easy to be deterred by a bad reference, but it should be consider in the context of all the information you know about the candidate.

Immediately discarding someone with a bad reference without consideration is the 10th major mistake. If they have other good qualities which offset the issues, you may also consider talking to the candidate and hearing their view as well as possibly adjusting the starting duties, salary, or training schedule to account for the extra risk and changes associated with the candidate.

Eradicating these mistakes can help to change referencing from a mere formality to a value added part of the selection process.

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