6 Tips To Being An Effective Reference For A Candidate

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One of the key elements in the hiring process is reference-checking. The reference check is designed to give a 360-degree view of the candidate.

As our Background Specialist, Gail Mayes, has written on our blog before, "A misconception about conducting church background checks is that they are intended to 'dig up dirt' on a potential hire. This is not the case. The process of conducting church background checks are intended for you to get to know your potential new team member better and gain clarity on whether they would be a good fit for your team or not."

If you find yourself listed as a reference as a former or current employer, supervisor, or manager, there are some steps you can take to be prepared.

If you're a hiring manager who conducts background checks regularly, download our guide to effective ministry reference checks.

Here are 6 helpful tips to help you maneuver the upcoming reference call:

1. Be prepared

  • Know your organization’s policy about giving a reference check. Due to lawsuits or fear of reprisal, many organizations have put a policy in place to protect their interest. Some have turned it completely over to their Human Resource Department and others just ignore the requests altogether. Reference checks are important to a successful hire, but make sure you are in alignment with the policies of your organization.
  • Check the paperwork. Make sure the person requesting the reference check has the written permission of the former employee. The person conducting the reference should have a release form with the former employee’s signature. If it is not provided, then no information should be released.
  • Have a conversation with the candidate. Is the request a personal reference, or is it on behalf of the organization? If personal, have a conversation with the person listing you as a reference. Ask them questions about the role and how they feel they might be a fit. Ask their interest level and discuss where they are in the process. Let them know how you would like to be contacted. This doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but it helps you be best prepared if you know a little of the story before you give the reference.
  • Anticipate the questions. Before your call, anticipate what the questions may be asked so you can be prepared with thoughtful answers. For example, if you were the former employer, you might be asked, “Would you hire this person again?” Anticipating the right questions will help ensure that you provide helpful information that goes beyond the general information found on a resume.

2. Be honest

Loyalty is valuable, but not at the cost of an honest reference.Tweet: Loyalty is valuable, but not at the cost of an honest reference. https://bit.ly/2sMQ3vT via @VanderbloemenSG

Be honest about what you can and cannot speak about regarding someone's work at your organization. Many times, references are fans of the candidate and they feel a sense of loyalty to the person being considered for the new role. A reference call is a vital piece of the hiring process, so it is important that you are honest in all of your communication about your former employees’ work ethic, performance, or any other helpful feedback.

Be careful not to predict success or failure for their new role. You may be the key that either confirms that the candidate would be successful in the new environment or that the candidate might not be a “fit.” It isn't helpful for any organization to have hired a candidate based on reference checks only to find out that the references that were given were not honest in their communication. It is not helpful for the organization, nor is it helpful for the person who was hired.

3. Be brief

Reference checks usually last about 15-30 minutes, but it is important for the person to take as long as needed to gain the 360-degree view of the candidate. Give the information that is needed, but do not prolong the call with unnecessary details. Usually, you are not the only reference that needs to be contacted and the caller may have several very important questions that need to be asked.

4. Be clear

Nothing hinders a reference check more than a lack of clarity. For example, if the former employee struggled with interpersonal relationships, then give a brief example. Maybe it was a conflict that was unresolved, or maybe they were too direct in their conversations which offended several co-workers. You do not have to use names of co-workers, but share an example that will bring clarity to your answers. It will be helpful to the person as they are searching for a potential fit.

5. Be curious

Feel free to ask questions. You should be prepared to ask at least one question to the person asking for your reference. For example, “What are the top three 'must haves' for the candidate in this role?” The answer may be helpful when deciding if the former employee would be a good fit for a particular role.

6. Be quick

Be quick in all your communication with the person checking the references. The hiring process may be dependent upon you being responsive in a timely manner. Many times the search process is slowed down because the references have not yet responded. You should already know that you are a reference, so make sure it is a priority whenever you receive the request for the reference check.

Reference checks have become more of a vital indicator for making a successful hire.Tweet: Reference checks have become more of a vital indicator for making a successful hire. https://ctt.ec/d03fa+ via @VanderbloemenSG

It is reported that over 90% of employers now perform reference checks (even though it should be 100%!). Next time you are requested to be a reference, use these tips to help make the reference check be most effective.

What are some tips that you have used that have helped make your process of checking or giving references most efficient?