The key to getting the most benefit from careful reference checking is to realize that there are three factors that go into the process: evaluation, confirmation and validation.
In order to get the most benefit from careful reference checking, it’s important to keep in mind that the objective is to view a candidate’s job performance over time and from different points of view, and to look for consistency among the comments made by references. Also, it’s important to look for patterns of career growth, professional development, and areas in which performance has changed over time.
Since the same basic questions are asked of all references, cross-comparison not only is possible but also becomes an essential part of the process. It’s always best, in my view, to start with questions that are very general and objective and progress to questions that are very specific and subjective. What it really boils down to is having a cordial, yet structured, conversation with the reference about the candidate. The more it sounds like you’re reading from a script the less candid the responses will be and, therefore, the less reliable.
The essential point that needs to be kept in mind throughout the process is that reference checking isn’t an attempt to uncover the fraud or the liar (although that does happen occasionally). The object is to identify:
- The candidate who has consistently performed well.
- The candidate who has grown in his professional career.
- The candidate who has demonstrated that he has the basic skill sets, both technical and interactional, which the job to be filled requires.
These constitute the “triple hit” that comes from carefully evaluating past job performance through careful reference checking.