Three tips to make reference checks a winning experience

01 Sep 2020 by Neil Rose, Co-Founder

Reference checking is often seen as a tick-a-box process, but it can be so much more; a chance to get real insights into your candidate, help you deliver a great onboarding experience, and even put the referee into a talent pool for a future role.


Three tips to make reference checks a winning experience

At Referoo, we see the real value reference checking can hold when HR professionals take the opportunity to be creative and different. Here are three tips for standing out from the crowd to make your reference checks a winning experience.

Ask meaningful, creative questions

At Referoo, we have around 15,000 questions across our client questionnaires, but for me, these boil down to only about thirty questions from a few narrow categories. If you want to have the most impact and gain some real insight into the person you are about to bring into your organisation's culture, you should think differently and use the time and attention of the referee wisely.

Firstly, alongside the usual hindsight and employability questions, you have an opportunity to get a personal opinion from someone who knows the candidate well, so use it to get an insight into how they will perform in your specific role. Even if it is a similar role, asking direct questions that relate back to your role will give you more usable insights. For example, the job we are considering hiring Sarah for involves extensive stakeholder management, how do you think Sarah will approach this? 

At Referoo, we've taken this to the next level, allowing clients to add a job URL to their questionnaire, so the referee can view the job description and answer a series of targeted questions.

Secondly, you can gain an insight into the candidate's personality, enabling you to provide an onboarding experience that delights the candidate and starts the relationship on a great foot. For example, We like to delight our team members during onboarding, what can you tell us about Sarah that will help us ensure she has a great experience?

I've personally seen this work really well in many circumstances. One that springs to mind: When this question uncovered the fact that the new hire was a golf fanatic, the onboarding process included a golf day – surprising and delighting the new team member and providing a genuine and memorable welcome.

Remember, your questions are not just about ticking-a-box, they are about developing genuine insights into the candidate as an employee and as a person that can help you make the right decision for your team and your new hire.

Create a positive referee experience

When we talk about recruitment, the candidate experience is often discussed, but you rarely hear about the referee experience. For me, it's important on a number of levels.

The more obvious one is that a positive experience is likely to lead to better quality references. Often, we call referees without pre-warning, and don't take into account that their time constraints, frame of mind and competing priorities will impact the quality of their reference and, ultimately, the information you collect.

Referees are providing you with this information as an act of goodwill or a social contract, if you like, so making sure you respect their time is a winning strategy to get the most out of the process. And it's one of the many ways Referoo's online reference checking tool can help.

Instead of a rushed phone call between meetings, an online questionnaire enables the referee to choose when they complete the reference check, and even allows them to stop and start as it fits their schedule. They can take the time to think about the questions and give measured answers – a better experience for them and better insights for you.

It also goes back to our first tip, meaningful questions. Your choice of questions (and the number of them) can impact the experience and the output. Some areas to think about here are limiting questions to 10-15 maximum, and not asking the same question in different ways. A common example is asking about a candidate's work ethic and then asking about their punctuality; different questions that will likely give you the same insight.

An online reference check also gives you the opportunity to better plan questions, starting by thinking about what it is you want to know – how will the information help you – and then creating a targeted question that is designed to give you this insight.

Additionally, it's an opportunity to do what we call 'talent pooling'. If you provide an interesting experience that feels like a good investment of the referee's time, you are saying something about your brand and what it's like to work for you. By making a positive connection with the referee, you may be able to add them to a talent pool for a future role or even head hunt them later.


Keep compliant

There are so many data and privacy laws today that govern how you manage a candidate's information, it can be hard to keep on top of the requirements, particularly with different legislation for different parts of the world.

Particularly if you are still taking references by phone, you can get into a tricky situation where you are holding information on different computers in different formats, and it can make it difficult to remain compliant. At the very least, you should have a secure, cloud-based storage system and a standardised format for collection. 

Using an online tool, like Referoo, will ensure your data is securely held in one format. This can take away the headache of finding and deleting data you no longer need. It can also make it easier to collect and access references in a standardised format that you can even call on later if the successful candidate applies for an internal role.