Finally, one of the most overlooked benefits of careful reference checking is using the results to develop a career development plan for the candidate once he’s hired. The key question to ask any reference is: “What do you think the candidate needs to really continue his professional growth and career development?” The responses from references to this question will often make it possible to build a career plan to increase the candidate’s value to the organization, either in the near-term or over a more extended period of time.

The first thing to do is to realize that every candidate, no matter how accomplished or skilled, can improve. None of us is perfect. There will always be things that can be done to gain more knowledge or experience, become more adept at working with others, or improve overall performance in at least one of a million other job-related skills. The one constant is the potential to become more than we are in our individual careers. Once this is realized, the door opens to useful insights as to how the candidate can become more valuable to the organization.

To illustrate the point, I recall doing a reference report on a candidate for a position as a senior design engineer. Part of the job description included being able to make effective presentations to top management and also to prospective clients. All his references were very positive about his professionalism, training, and solid experience in his field. However, when I asked what the candidate needed to continue his professional growth, all three references indicated that he needed to polish his presentation skills because he wasn’t a very convincing or effective speaker.

So, did lack of speaking skills knock the candidate out of further consideration for the job? Absolutely not! The prospective employer was so impressed with the other aspects of his job performance that he was hired—and almost immediately the new employer got him enrolled in a public speaking course at a nearby college. After just one semester, not only did he significantly improve his speaking skills, but he also voluntarily enrolled in another speaking course to further enhance his ability to make forceful and effective presentations!

The question must be asked whether or not the employer was able to increase the candidate’s value to the organization. The answer is an obvious “yes,” without a doubt. I would also suggest that without checking references, there was no other way for the employer to garner that information and avoid making what could have been a costly job mismatch. Clearly, the candidate would not have admitted during his job interview that his presentation skills needed improvement. As a matter of fact, I found out later from the employer that, prior to being enrolled in a public speaking course, he thought his presentation skills were fine!