I firmly believe that evaluating past job performance is the best way to measure future job performance.  There are all kinds of tools that are supposed to be predictive of future job performance: the structured job interview, the wide variety of aptitude and personality tests that supposedly measure just about any human characteristic one would care to name, and all sorts of background checks.

Carefully checking references, however, carries with it six distinct advantages other predictors of performance do not.

  • They provide an in-depth look at past job performance as seen by people with whom the candidate has actually worked on a day-to-day basis.
  • They allow the prospective employer to evaluate how a candidate’s skills, experience, training, and overall job performance fit the requirements of the job to be filled.
  • If done properly, they highlight areas in which the candidate can improve or gain additional experience to increase his value to the employer over time.
  • They will clearly demonstrate that care and consistency were fairly used in the employee selection process
  • Starting from the assumption that people change as time passes, careful reference checking will readily show how a prospective employee’s overall job performance has changed over time.  (Yesterday’s weakness can easily become      today’s strength and vice versa.)
  • The questions asked of references can be tailored to evaluate specific skills and abilities that a particular job may require that are unique to the job, the workplace environment, or a broader corporate culture.

None of the other predictors of job performance can give the prospective employer a more comprehensive look at a prospective employer than thorough reference checking.