Reference Checks: Too Many Candidates Think You Won’t

by Riia O’Donnell

You’re ready to make a hire: you’ve pre-tested candidates with Rankdone’s prescreening tool and found some terrific applicants. Your first and second interviews went like a charm and you’re ready to make an offer to the candidate you think will be the best fit for your company. Before you sign that offer letter, did you check their references? So many companies fail to do proper reference checks, and too often it’s too late when they realize how critically important references are.

The Society for Human Resource Management found 86% of companies discovered at least one lie on a candidate’s resume or application.

The top lies found:

  • 62% skills
  • 54% responsibilities
  • 39% job title
  • 31% employment dates
  • 28% educational/academic degrees

With that much exaggeration on the CV or resume, it’s important to make sure the person you hire is who they say they are. But it’s become challenging to get reference information out of past employers: many are willing only to provide the former staffer’s title and dates of employment. That basic data can’t help you make an informed decision. For all you know the candidate was fired for incompetence. If they scored well on Rankdone testing, you’ll know they can do the work, but how do you know they are able to get along well with others? Reference checks are the way to verify IT (and all other) candidates will add to the team, rather than detract from it. Here are some tips to get the information you need:

Ask for Specifics

Ask the candidate for people who will vouch for them professionally- mentors, peers, etc., in addition to the contact information for their past employers. They will always give you people who will say positive things, but you can work with that – see below!

Letters of Recommendation

If your candidate provides letters of recommendation, make sure to verify they’re legitimate. Anyone can write a glowing letter on their former employer’s letterhead – make sure the person who signed it actually wrote it.

Past Performance Evaluations

If a candidate’s company policy is to only offer dates and titles, ask for copies of past performance evaluations they were issued. These can give more detailed information about how the candidate worked on a daily basis, how they performed within teams and whether or not they were considered for promotion.

Be Creative

If a former employer only provides title and dates, ask about the job the candidate held instead of the individual. Ask if they could send you a copy of their old job description, which you can compare to the work they will be performing for you. And always ask if the employee would be eligible for rehire.

Reference from References

When talking to the glowing reference the candidate provided, tell the person you need just one more reference to talk to before you make the hire. Ask if they can refer you to someone else who might have something to say about the candidate. If they have a hard time thinking of someone who will offer a positive reference, it might be a red flag.

Trust But Verify

Verify everything on a resume or CV: education, certifications, licensure, experience. Over 25% of candidates admit they lie about their college degree: assume nothing. Verify everything you can – why hire someone else’s problem?

When it comes time to make your offer, if reference checks are completed, you’ll be that must closer to making the best hire you can.

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