My Un-Resume: Avoiding Reference Checks

Brett was stealing from the company.  Primarily, he was stealing his salary because he rarely worked a full day.  However, I even found out after I fired him that he was also using his company credit card for personal household purchases!

In the interview Brett was great.  He had a great resume and was a former college athlete.  He was funny and people were drawn to him.  He had all the tools to be successful. But, the truth was I hired a dud, and it was my fault.  I didn’t do reference checks and my excuses for not doing them were lame.

My Un-Resume

3 Lame Reasons Not To Do Reference Checks

Every hiring manager asks for references if they are interested in an applicant.  So do I.  The problem is I can always find an excuse not to do them.

Yes these are lame reasons.  Many of my bad hires could have been prevented if I had done my job and checked references.  In fact, I know I avoided multiple bad hires once I began to ignore these  lame excuses.

1.  They take too much time.

Lame! Try to get rid of someone like Brett after you hired them.  Talk about unproductive time.  I found an hour of up front work saved me weeks and months of paperwork and headaches on the back end.

2.  They are always positive so why bother.

Lame! I needed to get better at asking good questions and finding more than just the references listed.

3.  I am good at interviewing, I don’t need to check references.

Lame!  I cannot spend 2 hours interviewing someone and truly know them and their character.  Only someone who has spent extended time with a candidate really knows who that person is at their core.

How I Improved Doing Reference Checks

I hated spending time chasing down references.  I felt I was wasting time and people were only telling me good things when I called.   I came up with two techniques that helped me.

1.  I Began To Call During Off Hours

If I had a work number, I would call in the evenings.  If I had a home number, I would call during the day.  My goal was to leave a message.

“This is Dave Anderson.  I am calling about Brett ________.  He has applied for a job as a salesman for us and gave me your name as a reference.  Please give me a call back ONLY if you believe Brett is a can’t miss candidate for this job.  If you think any less, there is no need to call me back.  If I don’t here from you in the next 5 days, I’ll understand.  If I do hear from you, I promise to only take a few minutes of your time.”

This approach worked well for a few reasons:

  • It took me very little time to leave this type of message to 3-5 references.
  • Some people don’t want to say anything negative about anyone.  This technique allowed the reference to avoid saying anything bad about a candidate because they had the option of not calling back.
  • If they did call back, I had my first indication about what they thought about the candidate.

2.  I Asked The References For Additional References

I learned to ask each reference for other people the candidate worked with or for.  Sometimes the reference was not the candidate’s direct supervisor.  If that was the case, the reference often willingly gave me the phone number for that supervisor.

In my mind, if the candidate did not give me their direct supervisor as a reference, there was a story there that I needed to explore.  If that was the case, I may have just avoided another hiring mistake.  At least, I have uncovered some follow-up questions I need to pose.

The people not listed as references often have a history with the candidate that I need to be aware of.  Whether the history is positive or negative, I just gained insight into the character of the candidate that even the best interviewer wouldn’t uncover.

The Bottom Line:

People rarely fail in a job because they are incompetent.  It is usually a character issue that becomes evident in lack of work ethic, integrity, or coachability.

The best way to discover the character of a person is to ask people who have spent time with that person in a work environment.

Two years after I fired Brett, I ran into his prior supervisor.  It turns out he had the same issues with Brett.

He asked me why I hadn’t called him to find out more about Brett.  Unfortunately, all I had were 3 lame excuses.

Question:

What challenges do you face when doing reference checks?

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