Reference checks are a vital step in vetting your agency’s new hires. But you have to do them right, because candidates have an incentive to lie—and so do references.
Why would a reference lie about an employee? If the reference likes them, they’ll present a positive picture. But past managers will give positive references to someone they fired or laid-off, because they feel guilty and want them to get a new job.
Doing skeptical reference checks help you ferret out what’s real about each candidate. Here are my ground rules for reference checks at agencies:
- Don’t skip reference checks. You’ll be tempted to save time, but checking references is worth it (if you do it well). Being good at interviewing doesn’t automatically mean someone will be great at the job you’re hiring for. References provide third-party verification.
- Reference checks are only useful if you’re talking to one of their current or past managers. That’s because coworkers aren’t good references—only their manager knows about the quality of work, their follow-through, etc.
- As the agency owner, do not outsource reference checks to someone else, unless you have a full-time HR person at your agency. That typically happens at around 30-50 employees.
- Never outsource reference checks to an external commission-based recruiter—even when they mean well, they have the wrong incentive alignment. That is, they only get paid if you hire the person, so they aren’t looking for problems. Finding problems means they wouldn’t get their recruiting fee.
- Always do reference checks by phone—never by email. You need to hear the reference live; email lets them them craft a certain message. And phone lets you easily ask probing followup questions, which often get more helpful answers than the original question.
Are you the kind of person who only wants to see the best in others? That’s a good attitude in general—but not during reference checks. For now, try to uncover the worst about each candidate—so you can find the best person for the job. You owe it to yourself and the rest of your current team.
Still tempted to skip reference checks? Why would you want to save an hour or two when you’re about to pay someone five or six figures a year? Checking references helps you get it right!
Let’s look at specific questions I recommend during your reference checks.
My Questions for Reference Checks
Here are 10 key questions I ask when I do reference checks for my agency clients. You’ll want to customize to your situation. [Read more…]