Reference checking not to be neglected

Interviews are an important part of the candidate selection process, but reference checks are also a critical component of demonstrating careful and thorough consideration of the candidate’s recent and past performance. Prior to making a job offer, a prospective employer is likely to check your references.

By Emmanuel Zvada

While resumes summarise what applicants claim to have accomplished, reference checking is meant to assess how well those claims are a true representation of who the prospective job seeker is verifying from previous employers.

Recruitment serves as the first step in fulfilling the needs of an organisations, for a competitive, motivated and flexible human resource base. It is a rigorous process of searching the suitable candidates for employment and stimulating them to apply for jobs in the organisation is needed.

Recruitment is the activity that links the employers and the job seekers and that can be done in various ways. Among all the selection tools, reference checking is now fading slowly and one of the reasons might be unethical recruitment practices such as the “who do you know phenomenon”.

One way to prevent high employee turnover is to hire the right people in the first place and in this respect selection methods become important. By using the right selection methods, one can ensure that the candidates when not only have the right skills for the job, but also possess the right personality to fit into the existing organisational culture.

Once that “right” person has been employed, it is crucial that he or she chooses to stay in the company and is given the right incentives to do so. It has been costly for many organisations because many job seekers bias their references to find the best that can speak glowingly about themselves. As a result, one will move with his or her existing problems or weaknesses to the recruiting organisation, thus affecting performance and in the long run, productivity of the organisation they will be in. If less attention is given to the process of reference checking, the company might end up hiring non-performers.

Reference checking is an objective evaluation of an applicant’s past job performance based on information collected from key individuals such as supervisors, peers or subordinates, who have known and worked with the applicant. Reference checking is part of the validation step of a good hiring process.

Hiring managers need to validate that what candidates tell them during the interview is true. One way to do this is by talking to a reference and asking them what the candidate said during the interview. Reference checking will verify the accuracy of information given by job applicants through other selection processes, predict the success of job applicants by comparing their experience to the competencies required by the job and to uncover background information on applicants that may not have been identified by other selection procedures.

Applicants may attempt to enhance their chances of obtaining a job by distorting their training and work history information, especially these days there are many jobseekers chasing very few jobs.

Verifying critical employment information can significantly cut down on selection errors. If you’re in any kind of government job/public sector, reference checks are mandatory. And if you are handling large amounts of money or confidential information, reference checks and criminal background checks are a routine.

There is no need for an irrational fear that the reference checking process will jeopardise your chances of getting the job. Rather if you have a good previous history, it will help a lot. Reference checking is an important step in the recruitment process. Although some think references are outdated and questionable in terms of validity and reliability, they should not be neglected.

I think they are an old-school type of a network, and people who have strong networks and work for people with strong networks do not bother with reference checks because they generally only hire people who come recommended by someone they know.

Who is listed as a referee is important, but more important can be who is not. If past reporting managers are not listed, you should ask why. There may be valid reasons, but probing can sometimes produce some interesting insights.

Two questions I always ask in a reference check are: “Is there anything else a future employer should be aware of?”, and “Would you recommend the prospective employee to us? When you hear something negative from one source, do not jump to conclusions.

If you hear the same thing from several people, then the decision is easy. Upon hearing something negative from one source, it is obligatory upon you to explore the facts and determine the truth. You would not like to miss out on an excellent employee because you went no further than the first negative comment you heard.

It is undeniable that almost all professionals responsible for recruitment wish to get good references on applicants. If they cannot get good references, they will not hire that applicants, which means they have to take even more time to fill vaccancies.

Reference checking is a form of risk management. The potential risk runs from the one doing the reference checking or the recruiter to the whole spectrum of the process of recruitment.

All the same to the one giving references there is certain amount of indemnity in giving references, as long as the information is truthful. Unfortunately, many employers either do not understand that, or do not want to take that risk, and so only give name, rank and dates of employment.

Organisations normally treat reference checking stage as a necessary evil and as the last “obligatory” stage before finalising a job offer. It is, therefore, important to realise that reference checking is not the end of the hiring process, but rather the bridge between the hiring and induction processes.

Not only will reference checking help recruiters make the best hiring decision possible, but it will also support the hired candidate’s successful transition into his or her new role.

Reference checking remains critical and should not be neglected in the hiring process.

Emmanuel Zvada writes in his own capacity he is a human capital consultant / international recruitment expert and author: For comments inbox to emmanuelzvada@webmail.co.za or call +263771467441.

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