Hiring · Recruiting

How are you doing references?


August 17th, 2015

I was reading the FD Blog Post by Lukas Biewald, CEO/Founder of Crowdflower about hiring and equity. One of the things he mentioned is that the way we do references is pretty flawed.  The other thing is to check references with an open mind. I was reference checking with this one exec I was hiring recently, and the first person I met with said “I can tell you’ve already decided you want to hire him.” I realized I needed to back up and have a bit more zen-like approach to this process, because he was totally right I really did want to hire him in the interview."
Wondering if people have a different way or method of doing references and if people wait until the very end of the process? 

Perri Gorman Founder of Archively & UnrollMe

August 17th, 2015

I was in executive search for over 13 years before doing start ups and reference checking is all about the questions you ask. People tend to think that you can't get a bad reference from someone that the candidate gave you, but bad is relative. Here is my advice: - You need to lead the conversation. Don't just let the reference ramble about how awesome this person is. - Have specific questions in mind and prepared to address potential concerns or points that are really important. For example: To address backbone and if someone get get ideas through: Give me an example when (candidate) stood up for her point of view within the organization and got something pushed through. To get a sense of urgency and responsibility: Give me an example of a project that you worked on with (candidate) where he went above and beyond his role to get something done urgently. There are lots of questions you can design to find different things. The more specificity you ask for in a reference the less glossy sales answer you will encounter and you can dig in further from there. Also be clear you aren't just checking to check- ask meaningful things. You are looking for your own blind spots.

Syed Hosain Founder, SVP Engineering and CTO at Aeris Communications, Inc.

August 17th, 2015

We have sometimes done reference checks before the interview for some candidates that we considered strong possibilities - particularly if we were planning to fly them in from outside the area. And also used people that were not in the interview loop, to make the calls afterwards.

You definitely get better outcomes doing that. Because if you have already decided to hire and are only "doing the reference check because it is part of the process" or to validate that decision, then you will simply hear from the reference call what you want to hear. And unconsciously ignore the warning messages that may be present.

Paul Stefunek Managing Director at ZRG Partners, LLC

August 17th, 2015

Reference checking is a critical step in the hiring process. Although there are schools of thought that believing that reference checking is not critical and the references from the candidate only provide positive feedback. If a reference only provides valid feedback, disregard the reference and ask the candidate for more references. We are all human beings and we are not perfect. Additionally, it should be noted that there are the references that are provided by the candidate and there are references that are not provided by the candidate. The person checking references can ask all of references that are provided by the candidate "who else do you think I should talk with as a reference" regarding the candidate. This will provide you additional information not openly provided by the candidate reference list. Also, the list of questions you ask references should go well beyond their strengths and weaknesses, management style, etc. The hiring manager does need to know how to either manage/coach to the candidate's weaknesses or simply not to hire that candidate. 

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

August 17th, 2015

I think we all want to hire people going into the interview. Because not having the person means work is not getting done, is not getting done in a timely manner, or is getting done at the expense of other things (especially other things we want to focus on). On top of that, reading resumes, having calls and interviewing is time consuming itself and also taking time away from other work. So there are many reasons we really want the person across the table from us to be the right person, and this is true of every hiring manager in that situation, not simply CEOs at start-ups. What we need to temper our enthusiasm with, is that we have to make this decision with relatively little information, and none whatsoever about how they WILL work at this future job. But we must remind ourselves that by not hiring them we may lose a few extra hours, and we might have to choose a 2nd best candidate (though we'll never be able to be certain about that either). But if we hire the wrong person, we will not only fail to get the results we want, but we get to go through the start-up and processing of another job search all over again. With that in mind, and remembering the best prediction of future behavior is past examples of HABITUAL behaviors, ask questions about HOW people faced problems in prior jobs that are SIMILAR to your problems today. This will give you much better information to use than asking them how they WOULD solve some hypothetical future problem -- which will only tell you about their habitual ways to how they ANSWER questions, not what they DO when solving problems. I hope that is helpful to you.

Harsh Vardhan Co-Founder & Chief Number Cruncher: Cookedin.com

August 17th, 2015

One of the alternatives I've seen - to the usual telephonic reference/back-ground check being used, is a structured (objective type) questionnaire. Every query was followed, by 2-3 line answer substantiating the earlier response. For example if the referee (I) had indicated 3 (Good) on a scale of 4, for 'Leadership Qualities',  this was to be substantiated by 2-3 line answer validating the response!                                                                                 This was earlier preceded by the prospective company's HR calling, to inform and requesting that the questionnaire being sent; be completed and sent back a.s.a.p. 

Herbert Yang Founder of Linkqlo

August 17th, 2015

Yes it's important to talk to the reference with an open mind. Even if I have already decided I'm going to hire this person, I would still engage the reference as if I just started this interview process knowing little about the candidate. Also I draft a set of questions for each reference I talk to so that I have complete control of the narrative and always lead the questions. It's too easy for references to say nice things about someone they know. I need them to give me the real dirt.

Karen Bertiger Director at Herd Freed Hartz

August 18th, 2015

Obtaining references has become a "check the box" activity but conducting them in the right way can provide valuable information.  If you've reached the stage of reference-checking, you are biased towards hiring the individual, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Rather than approaching references as a necessary evil, plan a productive conversation with each reference by preparing in-depth and highly specific questions that will round out the insight you've already obtained through the interview process.  Questions such as "Would you work with this person again?" will not provide you with additional data to inform your hiring decision.  Instead, approach the discussion as if you have already decided on the hire and let the reference know upfront that you are leaning towards that decision.  Let them know that you are interested in validating not just the candidate's positive points, but their development areas as well.  This will help you to understand how to help develop the candidate, and help you be aware of potential blind spots in their skill set.  Nobody is perfect; the references should not be all positive, and if you push the reference to provide more critical feedback from the standpoint of helping to further develop the individual you should get some honest and transparent information.  I also highly suggest, when hiring an executive, that you do a 360 reference.  I find that a reference from a subordinate is often just as helpful as one from a supervisor.

Taj Sateesh CEO at Sphinx Resources--The Preferred Recruitment Partners in Hi-Technology R&D & Manufacturing

August 18th, 2015

There are 2 aspects to the Reference Checking phase of the hiring process.
Like Syed mentioned, it's human nature to get unconsciously clouded when the same person is asked to corroborate/verify earlier findings....be it in hiring or just about anything else.
The only way is for someone NOT involved in the decision-making process of the hiring to handle the Reference Checks......to allow an open-minded facts-checking exercise.
In India, we have regular Background Checking/Verification Agencies that do reference checking also if needed......not sure about the scenario in USA.

The Second aspect is what Perri suggested.........I have faced similar situations where the References give a rosy picture [after all they are humans too], UNLESS asked pointed queries. Like the Saying goes: "If you want the right answer, you have to ask the right question".
But the minimum of queries that need explanations or long-winded answers the better, since explanations invariably tend to lead to masking the factual inputs needed to arrive @ a well-informed hiring decision......in a whole lot of chaff.