Friday, December 17, 2004

Reference checking

The Globe and Mail has an article about reference checking that contains some interesting points.

It notes that reference checking is not an activity that is done thoroughly in many firms, though that this is increasing. When it is done it is too often of the 'get a letter from the HR department of the last firm' type.

The financial services and professional services firms often look at other issues, such as legal history, but this is being done mainly for regulatory reasons. What else can be done?

My view is that this is an activity that is best done externally, and a good place to look would be an executive search research firm - they probably know who that person will have worked with in the past. A good reference search should take about 1 day of a researchers time.

You're not looking for a perfect background - there are few saints in this world - but for a common theme. A high performer might have made enemies, maybe you speak to someone that they beat for a key job, but if you get the same 'development issues' time and time again it's worth questioning it.

Another way of reducing the likelihood of finding issues is to be upfront that you are going to perform thorough checking. The articles quotes Microsoft Canada's national recruiting manager Paul Hamilton.

Candidates are made aware from the beginning of the interview process that they can expect complete reference checks as well as a scrutiny of academic credentials and past job performance, he says.

"We want to make sure we can substantiate the information they give during the interview. If there is any key area we identify in the interview process, we will probe deeper."

In the year the company has been doing the scrutiny, 85 candidates for management jobs have been hired and none have had to be rejected because of problems with their background, he adds.

As noted it is better to use someone not involved in the recruitment process to do this activity, as after a long and difficult exercise the last thing many wish to hear is that their choice is not all they believe they are.

When companies spend so much time and money identifying high performers isn't it time they should do background checks more thoroughly?