October 3, 2022
4 Reasons References Are Critical to Your Hiring Process
Requesting references from a candidate may seem like an antiquated interview practice, but the benefits of consulting sources before making a hiring decision are numerous. As the interview process evolves with technology, the need to get to know a candidate becomes more important, so don’t be shy about following up on that resume section titled “references available upon request.” In fact, 87% of hiring managers consult a candidate’s references as part of the hiring process, according to an SHRM survey.
In addition to confirming a past employee’s title, length of employment, and responsibilities, asking more open-ended questions can provide deeper insight into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are four reasons to check a candidate’s references as well as questions to ask that can reveal critical information about a potential employee.
Reason #1: Get an unbiased opinion
An interview may not always be the most accurate way to determine if a candidate will perform well in a role. Just like some of us are better test takers than others, some people perform better in an interview than others, but this doesn’t always mean they'll perform better in the position.
Interviews provide an opportunity for candidates to speak to their strengths and sell themselves to potential employers, but it’s unlikely you'll get an accurate read of their weaknesses directly from the candidate. However, in some cases, the opposite may also be true. Candidates who have trouble selling themselves may inadvertently undervalue themselves at the risk of boasting their accomplishments. In either case, getting an outside opinion can help eliminate the risk of developing a biased or incomplete overview of a candidate's merit.
“References, and what somebody has done, are more important than what somebody tells you in an interview. Well done is better than well said, and there’s no substitute for good referencing,” says Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, in an article for the New York Times. There are two sides to every working relationship, and you’re more likely to get a thorough understanding of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses by consulting with their references and past employers.
To get an unbiased opinion about your candidates, ask references the following:
- Did the candidate match your expectations, fall short of your expectations, or exceed your expectations?
- What are the candidate’s greatest strength and greatest weakness as an employee?
Reason #2: Find out how the candidate fits into a team
Understanding how a potential hire works within a team is a key component in gauging their success within your organization. It’s likely you know the members of your current team quite well as the hiring manager, so understanding how a potential new team member might fit into that matrix can be valuable in making your decision.
Past employers or colleagues of a potential candidate should have a strong understanding of how that person operates within a team. It’s important to find out how they communicate, handle conflicts, and problem solve with colleagues from a source who’s been able to observe them in a working environment.
As a hiring manager, it’s imperative to not only consider competence when hiring but also personality types. Building a successful team means understanding the individuals who are a part of it and how their personalities blend together in a professional, and at times stressful, environment.
To find out how a candidate might fit into a team, ask references the following:
- Does the candidate show more initiative in following directions or in taking the lead on a project?
- Does the candidate thrive in a group setting or do they work best more independently?
Reason #3: Uncover a deeper understanding of the candidate
While hiring managers view interviews as a step in the process of filling a role, for a candidate an interview can mean the difference between unemployment and achieving their career goals. This power imbalance can cause anxiety for candidates, often inhibiting them from making an accurate first impression.
Vetting a candidate’s references allows hiring managers to get a true sense of who the person is from a trusted source who knows them well. Finding out who a candidate is as a person and not just as an employee can be helpful in determining how they’ll thrive in your organization’s working environment, but it’s important to ask references the right questions. By deepening your conversation with a candidate’s references beyond their job performance, you can gain a better understanding of who they are.
To find out who a candidate is as a person, ask references the following:
- What is a fond memory you have with the candidate?
- What superlative might you award the candidate if given the opportunity?
Reason #4: Understand how past performance applies to the role
There may be some debate as to whether past performance or future potential should be considered during the hiring process, but it’s important to consider both when making your decision.
Discussing past performance with a candidate’s references can give hiring managers insight into what kind of employee the candidate will become. This information can be useful in situations where an employee might tend to lose motivation once they settle into a role or might take some time to get up to speed before they really begin to flourish. This information can give you a better understanding of what support a potential candidate may need in order to succeed if hired.
To find out more about a candidate’s past performance, ask references the following:
- Can you describe the candidate’s most impactful accomplishment at your organization?
- How often did the candidate meet goals, deadlines, or KPI’s in their role at your company?
Hire the best fit with JurisTemps
Keep in mind that the questions you can’t ask in an interview are the same ones you should never ask a reference. If you’re not comfortable checking references and need to fill a vacant role fast, JurisTemps can help. We've been placing qualified candidates with top law firms and legal teams for over 20 years. Learn more about our recruiting process or submit a staffing request.