Reference-checking is an important part of the hiring process. Getting a firsthand perspective from an industry professional on a candidate’s work ethic, performance history, and teamwork/leadership skills is a valuable way to complement your own evaluation of a candidate’s potential within your company. However, I have seen many managers make the mistake of conducting reference checks too early in the hiring process, or placing more trust in other people’s opinions than in their own.
It is important that you meet with, or at least speak with, any candidate you are interested in and establish your own opinions and impressions prior to speaking with his or her references.
Trust Your Judgment
You are in your position because of your good judgment – not because of someone else’s. You are doing yourself a disservice if you do not put that judgment to use and assess a candidate for yourself. After you have met with someone and gotten a feel for who they are and how they might fit in with your company, then you can contact references and use them to either confirm or refute your instincts.
Trust Your Motivations
You know that you have your company’s best interests at heart – but you cannot assume that about anyone else. I know a manager who opted to check out a reference before meeting with a candidate. The reference cast doubt on the candidate’s ability to perform the high-level tasks required by the position, so the manager opted not to pursue the candidate. What the manager didn’t know was that the reference was entangled in office politics, and his personal agenda affected the way he spoke about the candidate. The manager lost the candidate, and he still hasn’t filled the critical need at his company. Never assume that someone else is giving you a neutral, unbiased assessment of a candidate’s abilities.
Trust Your Recruiter
If you opt to work with a third-party recruiter, find one you can trust, and then let them do their job. Reference-checking is a part of the vetting process for any recruiter worth his or her salt. By the time a recruiter recommends that you speak with a candidate, they have already spoken extensively to both the candidate and to industry professionals who know him or her. Another manager I know was considering calling a reference on a candidate before a scheduled interview, but he opted to meet with the candidate first because he trusted my recommendation. They had a great meeting, and the manager felt strongly that there was a mutual fit. When he called the reference later, his instincts were validated.
In order to recruit and hire quality professionals, it is crucial that you rely on your own judgment, and that you have the opportunity to meet with a candidate and evaluate him or her for yourself before you let your opinions get influenced by an outsider’s perspective. Only you have all the tools to determine whether a candidate is a perfect fit for your team – use them!