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10 Reasons to Talk to References

You’ve done a great job of screening, interviewing, negotiating and courting your new hire.  You’ve done the background check and verified employment eligibility – everything is good, right?  Not so fast!  Did you talk to your new hire’s references?

At least twice a week I talk with executives who are shocked when I suggest that actually talking to references is a necessary part of the hiring process.  They seem to think that this is an extraneous step that doesn’t provide you with either new or valuable information.  This can often be the case if the correct questions aren’t asked.  However, checking references can be a high quality tool to help you get a good candidate on board, IF you know the correct way to talk to these references, and the right questions to ask.  I’m going to share with you some of the reasons I always check references, as well as some super-secret tricks on what to ask that my industry knows – and now you’ll be in the know, too!

  1. Validation that you made a good decision. I don’t know about you, but I like to check my work. Having at least 3 people who have worked directly with the person I’m about to hire confirm that this is a high quality candidate helps me feel more confident about the decision I’ve made.  If you don’t get the confirmation you were looking for, you may want to double check your decision and see if you still think this is the right fit.
  1. Insight into the work habits of your new hire. Wouldn’t you like to know if your new team member has a hard time with mornings? Don’t you want to know that her cubicle will be decorated with M&M characters because she collects them?  What if she has a big phone voice and you were about to put her next to someone who needs a lot of quiet time to get their work done?  If you can gain some of this insight from past co-workers, it may save you some of the drama that often comes with getting a new team member oriented and comfortable.
  1. Collective wisdom on how best to manage your new team member.  One of my favorite questions to ask a reference is this: “How can I, as his new manager, help make him as effective as possible in this position?” I am looking for any information I can get that will fast track us to productivity.
  1. How to coach him effectively. If you can figure out how to get the most out of your candidate early on, you will increase the chances of your candidate being a success in his new role.  You can also do some form of personality assessment to get the inside scoop here, but I’ve found it just as helpful to ask former managers what worked for them with regard to my new team member.  Most professionals will be happy to help. 
  1. What isn’t she good at? Everyone has stuff that they don’t do well.  If there is a way to get some insight into development areas up front, then I don’t have to look for land mines on my own.  If my new team member has trouble staying focused or won’t say NO when she’s overloaded, I want to know that now so we can both be successful, sooner! 
  1. Expand your own network. Apart from the benefits you get with regard to your candidate, you have an incredible opportunity here to make a professional connection with someone new. You didn’t have to leave your office, go to a cocktail party or login to LinkedIn – it just happened.  Who doesn’t need to expand their network? 
  1. Promote your company. This is another potential benefit for you.  You have a captive audience, you have something in common (this person you are talking about), and you aren’t selling anything.  Why not tell them a little about your company?  You may be talking to a future customer – or someone who knows a future customer. 
  1. Ask for referrals. Unless you only have a single open position in your company with zero turnover, you would benefit from asking this question, “Can you think of anyone else that you’ve worked with in the past who would be as amazing as (the person you are talking about)?”  You may have found a new source for future awesome employees! 
  1. Offer to help. In the market today it’s likely that every hiring manager you talk to is in a position to hire or will need to hire in the coming year.  Offer to be a resource to them when they have a need. 
  1. Learn and develop yourself outside of your world.  I was on a reference call for a candidate this morning, and during the call learned that his former manager is currently writing a business plan for a new social enterprise.  Checking references on this new hire gave me the opportunity to speak with a very interesting person who I never would have connected with otherwise.  By reaching out, I’ve learned about a new business, and have also helped this manager make connections that will benefit him as he builds his business.  We have both expanded our network in mutually beneficial ways!

See??  Talking with references has oh so many benefits, both for the success of your candidate, and for you personally.  I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t pick up the phone and make these very important connections.

My best wishes for successful onboarding of your shiny new hires.  If you want more information on happy hiring you can visit us here.

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About Kimberly Lucas

Kimberly Lucas is the Founder and Chief People Connector at Goldstone Partners, Inc., a Colorado-based search and talent advisory firm specializing in recruitment strategy and engaged search for privately-held companies. As a seasoned entrepreneur and career coach, Kimberly is committed to helping founders build strong, profitable companies that stand the test of time. She serves as a mentor for University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business as well as Goodwill AVID. She also serves on the board of the Rockies Venture Club and is an active facilitator at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.