There are many articles on LinkedIn about how to retain staff but not many talk about the importance of hiring the right people in the first place and how referencing is a vital part of that decision.
With so many people now looking for a new job because of the impact of Covid-19, it is now more important than ever to ensure your reference taking process is robust.
Why now more than usual? Candidates in the market at the moment can very generally fall into two camps: those who have lost their jobs because of the economic downturn and those who have lost their jobs because their employer has seen the current situation as an opportunity to move them on.
You want to be sure that you are employing the people who fall into the first category and putting time and effort into the referencing process is vital to make sure you are hiring the best (in fact, there hasn’t been such an opportunity for employers to bring in really great talent for a long time).
Here are just some of our thoughts gained through many years of experience in reference taking for both our own company and our clients:
- Always take a reference verbally and ensure you are engaged in ‘active listening’. It’s often what is not said that is more revealing than what is said.
- Put time and effort into thinking about what you really want to know about your potential new employee and create bespoke questions for each candidate you reference.
- Don’t just take a reference from nominated referees – how do you know that person isn’t a good mate of the candidate who is going to give a less than objective view? Or, indeed, the referee is who the candidate says they are?
- Don’t accept a standard response from HR departments outlining that the period of time the candidate was employed by them – that is not going to help you ensure you’re about to hire the right person!
- Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of hearing what you want to hear; the interview has gone well, you like the candidate and you want the referee to say that the candidate was great in their previous role so you can end the headache of recruiting … we’ve all done it!
- Do your homework on the person giving the reference – do they have a good reputation in their own roles as leaders or managers and so their comments can be relied upon? Remember, a referee’s opinion is usually subjective and you need to be sure the referee knows what good looks like.
- Finally, trust your instinct – if you feel the referee is choosing their words very carefully or is reluctant to enlarge on an answer or comment, it is likely that there is a problem that the referee doesn’t want to talk too much about. This is understandable as there is a skill to giving as well as taking a reference and conversations need to be handled carefully with sensitivity and sophistication by the reference taker so the referee has confidence that the process is being handled professionally.
We believe at least two to three hours should be dedicated to referencing per candidate – it seems like a lot of time but if it stops you making a wrong hire it pales into insignificance!
Helen McAnally, Founder (June 2020)