References that Reap Rewards

By Jenifer Lambert

Busy recruiters have one common wish: more hours in the day. Their to-do lists are long and growing: schedule interviews, debrief hiring managers, check references, prepare offers and, of course, recruit more candidates. Since each of these tasks are important and urgent, what’s an overloaded recruiter to do? The answer: get more mileage out of every activity by accomplishing multiple purposes with each task. The easiest way to do this is to turn references into a recruiting and referral goldmine.

Reference checking is often seen as a time-consuming, low-value activity, when it should be viewed as a significant opportunity to mine conversations for hidden talent.

As you prepare for your next reference check call, the following steps will add significant value to the process.

1. Gather as you go

Start by reviewing the candidate’s resume. For each employer listed, ask the candidate the following:

A. Who did you report to? Get the name and title.

B. Who, besides your boss, was instrumental in your development? Again, get names and titles.

C. What teams did you work on? Who did you interact with frequently? For example: A Java Developer you’re interviewing has probably worked with Project Managers, System Architects, QA Specialists, UI Designers, and even more developers just like her. Gather names and titles as you go.

The key is to make this conversation relaxed and natural. Don’t ask for contact information as you’re gathering names, since this will often cause the candidate to become guarded.

Side-benefit: In addition to the obvious recruiting benefits of gathering these names, collecting this information during the interview can be very helpful when it comes time to check references. If the reference list the candidate provides doesn’t include some of the key names you gathered during the interview, address this:

“You mentioned that you reported to Michael Smith when you were at ABC Company but I don’t see his name on your reference list. Why is that?”

Also be concerned about any candidate who is hesitant to answer your questions directly or is evasive. Good candidates know they will get good references and are happy to provide the names of people who can attest to their good work.

2. Connect the dots

By the end of your interview, you will have compiled a nice list of potential recruiting targets. If you have an immediate opening for a Project Manager and your candidate has told you that she worked closely with Project Managers in her last three jobs, connect her past coworkers to the present opportunity by saying something like:

“You said you worked closely with several Project Managers in your last couple of jobs. Which of those would you want to work with again? We are currently hiring Project Managers and I’d love to reach out to anyone you respect enough to refer.”

Get the contact information for anyone she recommends and ask if you can use her name when you contact the person. Using a referral with the name of a respected coworker will help to warm up a call considerably.

many managers3. Look for additional opportunities during the call

Remember your goal of getting more out of every reference check and having a plan before you make contact. In addition to getting reference information on your candidate, look for additional opportunities to get referrals while on the call:

A. Recruit the manager. Even if the manager isn’t open to making a change at the time of your call, take the opportunity to capture his contact information for the future. Find ways to connect with him and keep him aware of future opportunities.

B. Who else? At the end of the reference call, ask the manager who else has worked closely with your candidate who could comment on her performance. This serves two purposes — you can gain additional insight into your candidate and you have another potential recruiting opportunity if you choose to make contact with this “backdoor reference.”

C. Get referrals for your other open positions. Keep all of your open searches in mind when making contact with a past manager. If you’re looking for a Business Analyst, ask him about the best Business Analyst he’s ever worked with.

D. Leverage layoff remorse. Most managers have had to lay off good people in the past several years. If the candidate whose reference you’re checking was let go as part of a layoff, find out from the manager what other good employees he hated to see go.

So the next time you’re faced with an impossibly long list of things to do, don’t think either/or. Think how you can turn routine activities like reference checking into recruiting gold.

About the Author

Jenifer Lambert is a VP with Terra Staffing Group, a Pinnacle Society recognized Executive Recruiter, and President of Elevate Performance Systems, LLC, a consulting and training firm that helps third-party recruiters grow their business.