I believe in the power of the interview. I think there’s more value in spending time interviewing, doing assessments, doing some testing, giving them pre-hire projects — than calling to see what someone (who I don’t know) thought of them at a job that may or may not be closely related to the job your candidate is applying for. I think an interview, when done well, tells you pretty much everything you need to know about your candidate.
At the bare minimum, it should tell you if they are smart enough to give you a reference who’s going to say something positive about them. If you happen to interview somebody, like them enough to get their references — and then they give you somebody who bashes them, you have failed at the interview process.
Pretty much everyone in the world knows that you should choose references who are going to say positive things about you. If you were wowed enough to check references and they stink….you need to take a serious look at your interview process because it needs some significant improvement.
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So it's safe to assume, most references are going to be positive. So, be sure to remember that positive review came from someone the candidate hand-picked. Chances are they evolved from co-workers to friends over the years. Which means they are easy to work with. However, you can’t be sure they weren’t the two talking at the water cooler for an hour each day.
Some references are from jobs or positions they held years ago. Before you waste your time checking these references – make sure the experience is relevant to what you are currently hiring them for. If they were a vet tech before they went back to school for accounting, does their bedside manner with animals really matter to you?
Some might argue that reference checks are important in finding out whether or not a candidate is lying about credentials. I absolutely agree that employment verification is important. But these days, there are online programs that to verify employment and education credentials. They are inexpensive and much more accurate than calling a number the candidate gives you for a company that may or may not exist anymore.
Frankly, reference checks lost their value eons ago. They lost their value because there’s so much litigation and liability that very few past managers going tell you anything – let alone any negative feedback for fear of litigation. In my opinion, the half hour to an hour you might spend doing reference checks is essentially a waste of time. You would be much better of spending time doing something else. Like having a cup of coffee with a fellow entrepreneur or a key employee.
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