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Avoid the Pitfalls and Maximize the Benefits of Reference-Checking

Robert Hosking

A strong resume and interview may place a job-seeker in the running for a position, but a new survey from OfficeTeam finds the results of a reference check can be the real deal maker - or breaker.

Managers interviewed said they remove more than one in five (21% of) candidates from consideration after speaking to their professional contacts.

As for what hiring managers are looking for when speaking to references, more than a third (36%) said they are most interested in getting input on an applicant's past job duties and experience. Learning about the individual's strengths and weaknesses came in second, with 31% of the responses.

Robert Hosking, Officeteam's executive director, says: "The reference-check process helps employers learn as much as possible about applicants before extending an employment offer. It provides an opportunity to confirm important claims made by a candidate during the interview and in the resume. Speaking with a job-seeker's contacts also can offer insight into whether an individual will fit in with a company's culture."

Hosking says that besides verifying basic information, such as employment history and salary, hiring managers should ask questions such as the following for additional background:

* What are the person's three strongest qualities?
* Can the reference describe an area in which this person could improve?
* Was the reference happy with this person's performance?
* How often did this person work in groups compared with alone?
* Can the reference describe a difficult situation or circumstance and how this person responded to the stress?
* What motivates this person?
* If the reference had the opportunity to hire this person again, would he or she do so?

Hosking says that "issues that may arise during reference checks include inability to reach contacts or receiving limited information from individuals because of company policies. However, as long as the candidate lists several references that a manager can call, this shouldn't hamper the process."

Hosking adds that employers should be wary of fake job references, as some applicants have turned to services for help in hiding resume gaps or past terminations. Managers should ask a job-seeker for the general phone number of the company where the reference can be reached. Calling the organization's main line and asking for a reference by name helps employers verify that the company and contact are legitimate, rather than the applicant's friend or someone posing as a past employer.

"It's important that hiring managers handle reference checks themselves, because it's the only way to be certain the right questions are asked and that follow-up is thorough," Hosking said.

"To avoid hiring mistakes, employers should do their due diligence, especially if questions arise based on speaking with references and additional research is required," he added.

Managers also may consider seeking additional contacts to verify information gleaned from primary references, either by asking them for names of others who worked with the candidate or by searching the applicant's online network.



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