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Making a Reference List, Checking It Twice

December 25th, 2012 ::

By Karen Axelton

Santa Claus isn’t the only one who’s making a list and checking it twice this time of year. Smart small business owners will do the same when they’re interviewing job candidates. A new study from CareerBuilder highlights some of the risks you could take if you don’t bother to contact a job candidate’s references.

Nearly 30 percent of employers report having caught a fake reference on a candidate’s job application. And almost two-thirds (62 percent) say that when they contacted a reference listed on an application, the reference didn’t have good things to say about the candidate.

The overwhelming majority of employers (80 percent) say they regularly contact references when they’re considering potential employees. Nearly 70 percent of employers say they’ve changed their minds about a candidate after talking to a reference; of those, 47 percent say the discussion gave them a less favorable opinion of the candidate, and 23 percent say it improved their opinion. About one-third (31 percent say their opinion has never been swayed by a reference.

In an interesting trend, 16 percent say they contact references even before calling a candidate in for a job interview. Clearly, this could save you some time if all of the references you contact have a negative opinion, but it might make it harder to form your own unbiased opinion of a candidate first.

If you do check references, be sure to contact all of them. Seventy percent of workers say they always provide three or more references when applying for a job, and talking to a variety of former employers will give you more fully rounded insights into the person’s work habits.

Are you worried that references won’t be honest? Contacting multiple references is a good way to get around this concern. Another tactic: Asking a very open-ended question (“Can you tell me a little bit about so-and-so?”) and seeing how vocal the reference is. If he or she can’t stop saying good things, that’s a good sign. On the other hand, a lack of feedback or reluctance to talk could indicate the person’s performance was less than stellar.

Keep in mind, some HR people’s companies restrict them from giving out anything but the most bare-bones information about references as a matter of policy. This isn’t necessarily a negative reflection on the candidate. If you get one of these references, just check the factual information that you can, such as job title, dates of employment, salary and reason for leaving the company. You may uncover some discrepancies that could be important to know about.

Image by Flickr user Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) (Creative Commons)


The views expressed here are the author's alone and not those of Network Solutions or its partners.

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