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Structure your reference checking in 3 steps and make better hiring decisions

What would you say is the purpose of reference checking in a recruitment process? Probably to ensure that the information you’ve already collected from the candidate is correct? And to provide you with additional insights to help you make a more informed decision? That sounds reasonable enough. Still, traditional reference checking via phone call between recruiter and referee has proven to be a rather unreliable method to achieve this. Bias and unstructured follow-up questions seem to get in the way of getting a result that truly predicts future work performance. Fortunately, there are simple steps to take in order to considerably increase the value you get out of the process. Let us provide you with a few!

Keep it structured all the way through – from creating your questions to comparing the answers

The lack of structure in a traditional reference check done by phone is one of the main problems with the method. Instead, take the approach of letting structure follow you all the way from formulating your questions to evaluating and comparing the references for several candidates. This includes:

1.   Mix different types of questions targeting both formal and personal competencies

Make sure to create questions based on your candidate profile and target both formal and personal competencies. Also, try to define the questions so that they enable the referee to answer in estimates, along with with some more lengthy examples and descriptions of specific situations. Multiple choice questions and rating scale questions are great in that they reduce your intuitive interpretation as you can’t ‘read between the lines’ and the references are easier to compare.

2.   Be picky about which referees to contact (And the more references the better!)

If possible, try to influence the candidate’s choice of referees. Studies show that managers and supervisors are the best sources for reliable information and prediction of future work performance. A close colleague can provide a valuable and complementary perspective.

Studies indicate that the more references the better. Aim for at least three per candidate if possible. Preferably, contact people who have witnessed the candidate in a similar role and are knowledgeable in the job’s relevant competencies.

Also, encourage the candidate to choose up-to-date referees. For the referee to be able to give a reliable judgement of the candidate’s current competencies it is important that they have worked together rather recently – within a period of 5 years is generally a good timeframe.

3.   Standardise the actual reference check   

When it’s time for the actual reference check, let all referees answer the same set of questions. Preferably, under the same conditions. That way, you reduce the risk of bias and unstructured follow-up questions. Also, when comparing answers from several referees it’s much easier to see patterns and draw conclusions to guide your decision.

A digital tool for reference checking to tie up the loose ends

Hopefully you found these steps informative and they can help you make even better reference checks with insights that lead to more informed hiring decisions! By taking references using a digital tool, such as Refapp, it is easy to work according to these guidelines all the way through. It lets you create your questionnaires with different types of questions, according to your candidate profile and send them automatically (and unbiased) to many referees without taking more of your time. The references are stored securely and gathered in a report so that comparing the answers gets easy.

Refapp’s integration with Teamtailor makes reference checking available directly in the everyday workflow. We hope that this contributes to more fair, unbiased and structured reference checks, with better results!

Thanks for reading!

By Emelie Dahl, Content Marketing Manager at Refapp, a tool for digital reference checking