Reference Checks Required

What is the best part of your job?

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook, "One of the best parts of my job? Calling successful candidates to make a job offer. One of the worst? Telling unsuccessful candidates they aren't getting it."

My friend conducts a thorough pre-employment screen and she makes good hires. But not everyone is as thorough. Not all hiring managers or HR professionals check references.

I recall an interaction I had with a hiring manager as a young HR professional:

Me: You have to check references.

Hiring Manager: Why? He did great in the interview.

Me: Because, you have to.

Hiring Manager: No, I don't.

Me: Yes, you do. You have to know who you are hiring.

Hiring Manager: I do know who I am hiring. His name is Joe and he's a rock star.

Turns out, the hiring manager did not know Joe like he thought he knew Joe and Joe was more rock than star. Instead of an, "I told you so," as I walked the rock star out the door, the hiring manager received a not-open-for-discussion, "reference checks required."

In hindsight, I would have gotten my point across better with the hiring manager if I had taken the time to teach vs. tell and offered more of my reasoning.

Gilt Groupe's CEO, Kevin Ryan talks about reference checks in his Harvard Business Review article, Building a Team of A Players:

"The hiring process typically has three elements: the resume, the interview and the reference check. Most managers overvalue the resume and interview and undervalue the reference check. References matter most. . . . when someone does not succeed in a job, it's generally not for lack of technical skills - it's because of intangibles that don't come up in an interview. Is he attentive to detail? Does she work well with others? How does he treat his colleagues? References are the only way to learn these things."

You don't spend $1.59 on a dozen eggs without checking each and every egg ('fess up) so how could you hire an employee for your organization without checking him for cracks?

I know, I've griped about reference checks too. I probably griped right after I duck taped the little voice that was telling me, "no," or said something like, "I am self-aware, un-snowable, and great judge of character." And it's backfired on me each and every time.

Guess what? I am not as good a judge of the intangibles as I think I am and neither are you. Reference checks required. And when you check references, check good.

As Ryan says, "It can take real effort to find someone who will be straight with you, but it's worth it."

Making good hires is the best part of any manager's job.

Photo credit iStockphoto