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References Can Be Decisive

November 18 2019 - Despite the emphasis placed on strong resumes and interview performance, the results of a reference check can be decisive in determining the outcome of a job application, according to an online survey of 600 senior managers conducted earlier this year for Accountemps.

The survey reported that managers removed one third of candidates from consideration for a position with their organization after a reference check.

Arguably, references can provide prospective employers with a stronger sense of whether or not a potential recruit fits their skill requirements and workplace culture. Senior managers in the survey said they were most interested in getting:

  • a view of the applicants' strengths and weaknesses, and
  • a description of their past job responsibilities and work experience

David King, Canadian president of Accountemps said:

"During the hiring process, reference checks can make or break your chances of landing a job. Rather than approach references as an afterthought, providing ample notice and preparation are key to ensuring a positive endorsement that reflects well on your candidacy.

"Anticipate questions about your strengths and weaknesses by discussing them with your references ahead of time. Make sure they can speak to how you're continuing to develop your skills and why your background makes you not only a great fit for the role, but an asset to the company."

David King provided these tips for candidates to ace a reference check:

  1. Do your homework - Invest as much care in choosing your references as you put into polishing your resume. Consider who could best speak to your abilities for the specific opportunity and whether their company policy would restrict them from doing so.
  2. Ask first - Don't let the hiring manager surprise your contacts confirm their interest and availability to serve as a reference for you. If they agree, keep them up to date on the hiring process and let them know when to expect a call
  3. Be proactive - Don't wait until a prospective employer asks you to provide a reference list. Early in the process, reach out to references and let them know you're pursuing a new opportunity. The more prepared you are, the more effective they can be.
  4. Say 'thank you.' - Follow up by sending a note to let those who spoke to the hiring manager know how much you appreciate their time and endorsement. When possible, return the favour; your reference may need you to speak to their abilities in the future.

Digital Reference Checking: the Magical Number 4

Some organizations have upped their game by using digital methods to make reference checking more stringent. Using traditional methods companies call an average of 2.4 references. Digital automation tools give hiring managers access to many more references than would be feasible by telephone.

According to Checkster the confidentiality of the digital process allows referees to feel more comfortable about giving candid feedback on candidates. The process should also be more holistic and similar in many ways to peer reviews.

Yves Lermusi, CEO, Checkster commented: "It's a myth that reference checking is a waste a time. Research has shown that digital reference checking is one of the best selection processes and checking four references ensures that candidates aren't cherry-picking the few references who will say good things about them."

Checkster conducted an analysis of more than 51,000 references and concluded that four references was the ideal number for quality hires and to prevent turnover. Data analysis of the total number of references who provided feedback on the candidates in the study was correlated with first year turnover. According to their news release:

"Candidates who had three or less references providing feedback showed significantly higher rates of turnover and no shows on first day of employment. The biggest difference between obtaining two and four references was an increase in involuntary turnover and no show by as much as 80%."

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