Elite Executive column: Is reference checking still relevant?

Is reference checking relevant? Absolutely!

The caveat to this response is – as long as the information collected is of use and the information is used well – and therein lies the crunch...

 Elite Executive’s Eva Grabner explains.

Too often obtaining reference checks or referee reports is viewed as a process, a box to be ticked. Many organisations require a minimum of two referee reports before a candidate is employed and more often than not organisations of all sizes have pre-prepared forms or templates for this purpose.

But are those forms effective?

Is it a one-size fits all document or are they tailored for the role that is being recruited for? Is the form modified to specifically address queries relating to the candidate in question?  More often than not employers use the same form over and over without duly considering the importance of this critical component of recruitment.

Reference checks should never be done on the fly – allow time to take references in your calendar and most importantly, allow the referee to schedule the reference taking at a time that bests suits him or her.

Online references are terrific and do have a role to play due to their convenience. As a Hiring or Line Manager though, be sure to review any completed referee reports and where you are unsure of a response, would like further detail or wish to close off any gaps – do go back to the referee for clarification.

It’s super important to ensure that at least one of the references you receive is from a direct Line Manager and a recent one at that. Indirect Managers, Team Members, colleagues and associates can all provide useful support information, and in some cases, validation of a candidate and his/her application; yet there is no substitute for a recent Line Manager when it comes to valuable intel on a candidate.

Many people view reference taking as a redundant exercise, as often referees only provide glowing reports. A reference is only as good as the person who is asking the questions so be thorough.  Should a reference be ‘over-glowing’, too short (ie not enough detail provided), or with the same response provided over and over again – then it is up to the person taking the reference to delve deeper and establish why this is the case.  There may be a valid reason or perhaps there is more to the story.  Should you take a reference and still have questions, go back to the referee and close any gaps.

I firmly believe a reference or referee report needs to be a living document. As a Line Manager, refer to these on a regular basis to make sure you are getting the best out of your new Team Member.  This helps enormously should you find your Team Member is under-performing or you feel that they are off their game for some reason. At times of performance reviews, references/referee reports, just as interview notes, provide a benchmark for your Team Member prior to joining your Team and as such can provide you with performance ‘barometer’ for comparison purposes.

Reference checks/referee reports are extremely relevant and are an extremely important and effective management tool.  As a Manager are you proactive in your taking and use of references/referee reports? Or are you leaving this critical exercise to someone who sees it as a ‘tick and flick’ exercise?

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