Reference Checks


A few years ago we were asked to check the references of a candidate for a plant manager’s position with a major manufacturing firm here in the Midwest.  The hiring manager called and provided all the necessary information for us to contact appropriate references.

Here’s essentially what he said, “We’ve interviewed our top candidate, and we’re probably going to make him a job offer; but we thought we ought to have you check his references – just to be safe.  He added, “We’ve interviewed him, he presented himself well, he knew all the right answers to the questions we asked, and he seemed to be very capable technically; so we’re anticipating making him an offer.”  The job, incidentally, paid in the mid-six figure range.

The very first reference I spoke with had some very interesting comments to make.  He confirmed that, when they hired the candidate for a position similar to the one our client was considering offering to him, he had presented himself well, had known all the right answers to the questions they asked, and seemed to be very capable from a technical standpoint.  “It took us about six months, however, to discover that he could do only about half of what he claimed he could.”  It was at about that time that, by mutual agreement, he resigned.
During the course of our conversation, I asked the reference, “So, what do you think his main strength on the job really was?”  The response from the reference was, to say the least, very telling.  His reply was, “interviewing.”  He then proceeded to itemize how much it had cost the company to make that fateful hiring decision.  “The cost of six months of salary and benefits, the cost of the search, and the cost of initiating another search cost us over $140,000.”  Interestingly enough, all three of this person’s references essentially described the candidate in the same way.

When I called the prospective employer with an update – and told him what the candidate’s references had to say about him, I could almost hear his chin drop over the phone!  The point was, had the prospective employer not had us do a reference check on their candidate, and assuming a similar result, the cost of not checking could have been even higher!  Ultimately, the moral of the story is that there are people who interview very well, but who have a history of poor job performance.  The reverse, however, is also true: there are people who simply don’t interview well, but who have had an outstanding record of job performance – and the only way to determine who’s the best fit for the job to be filled is to do a thorough job performance-based reference report.

Oh, by the way, the cost to the prospective employer of having us do a thorough reference check was just barely over $400 – a far cry from making a $140,000 hiring mistake because nobody bothered to check!