The Real Way to Check References

referral-wordI’m not gonna BS you, checking references on a candidate isn’t my idea of a good time. But it’s vital. I’ve had more close-calls than I care to admit…and reference checks saved my tush.

Unfortunately, most hiring managers skip them entirely (who has the time?) or go thru the motions (who wants to hear that the beloved candidate is actually a dud?)

So, if you’re gonna do them, do them right, and there are three shortcuts I’ve learned. They’ll save you MANY hours and MANY heartaches.

1. Before Checking References, Check Referenceability

I do this on the very first conversation with every candidate. “I know this is three steps ahead, but if we get to that point in the process where we decide to work together, who will I be able to speak with as references of your work?”

Phrase it that way and listen for dramatic pauses.

Or listen for a flurry of names, including every manager the gal/guy has ever worked for.

A-players love for you to check references. B-players clam up.

2. Write Down Every Name You Hear During the Interviews

When the VP Sales candidate talks about the massive implementation they led with the VP Marketing, write down that person’s name and every name they utter. I grab ‘em all and underline them.

Then when it’s time to speak with references, I pay attention to who’s on the list they provide… and who’s noticeably absent. It speaks volumes.

Then, I ask for the contact info of everyone they mentioned. A-players pull out their contacts app.

B-players do this:


3. Give the Candidate the Chance to Come Clean

I ask “When I speak with Larry about your work together at Google, what is he going to say? I’d far prefer to hear it from you first.”

Not sure what it is, but these words – carefully honed over 25 years of hiring – seem to encourage the candidate to spill their guts. Every candidate has secrets. Things they wish they had or hadn’t done. Nobody’s perfect – heck, even yours truly has been fired. But your job when recruiting is to uncover those secrets before you make the offer, not after.

These three techniques may save your tush, too.

Never settle,

p.s. It’s hard to check references if you don’t have the right candidates in the first place. That’s what my new SHORTLIST matchmaking service does. Here’s how it works.

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman

Jeff Hyman launched his recruiting career at Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, the preeminent global executive search firms. Today, he’s Chief Talent Officer at Chicago-based Strong Suit Executive Search. Along the way, Jeff created four companies, backed by $50 million in venture capital. He currently teaches the MBA course about recruiting at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and hosts the five-star Strong Suit Podcast. Jeff has been featured by Inc., Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, and other media outlets. He holds a master’s degree from Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor’s degree from The Wharton School.

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