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Are Reference Checks Still Valuable for Remote Hiring?

Does your company conduct reference checks as part of your strategic hiring process? If you do, then you know how important it is to get feedback from someone other than the candidate about things like cultural fit, experience, and growth potential. If you don’t, then you could be missing key information that will help you filter out mediocre candidates and choose the best possible person for the job.

But has that changed with the shift to remote work? The short answer is no. In fact, you’ll find reference checks even more valuable as you hire and manage a remote workforce.

Our current remote work environment has made the need for reference checks even more urgent, since hiring managers can’t always meet candidates face to face these days. Subtle clues like body language and eye contact are difficult or impossible to pick up over the phone or in a Zoom call. Yet these clues can provide valuable information about the candidate’s confidence, communication skills, and teamwork mentality. If you miss them, you may end up with a candidate who won’t do well in the role.

And the costs of a bad hire are steep.

By the time you factor in the expenses of hiring, onboarding, training, and lost productivity, replacing that employee will cost you at least 30% (or more) of their annual earnings. Reference checks give you one more tool to help you hire the right people the first time, saving you both time and money. 

But there are still a significant number of companies that either don’t do reference checks at all or only do them sometimes. Why is that?


Are Reference Checks Really Necessary?

There are two reasons companies might not include reference checks in the hiring process:

  • It takes too much time.
  • References don’t provide enough meaningful information.

Hiring managers might spend a day or two playing phone tag with references, only to get generic, unhelpful answers when they finally do connect. Nobody has time for that.

Foregoing them altogether, on the other hand, means you might not get the full picture on a given candidate. It’s not that hard to make a favorable impression in an interview, but can the candidate really follow through when it comes to working with a team day in and day out? The reference check can answer that question by telling you:

  • Whether the details provided on the resume and in the interview are accurate.
  • Whether the candidate has the experience you are looking for.
  • How quickly the candidate learns and adapts.
  • How the candidate interacts with others (both team members and customers).
  • Whether the candidate will be a good fit for your workplace culture.

Reference checks provide key information during the hiring process, and employers aren’t the only ones who benefit. For candidates, reference checks serve as authentication of the information you have provided on your resume and in the interview. Good references have the potential to set you apart as a desirable candidate.


How to Conduct an Effective Reference Check

If you’re going to make reference checks a strategic part of your hiring process (and you should), then it’s important to do them right. Reference checks should follow a standard process for each candidate and should comply with any applicable legal guidelines.

Here are some tips for making the most of your reference checks:

  • Be Transparent – Tell the candidate you will be conducting reference checks and let them know what to expect.

  • Ask For Input – Reach out to others involved in the hiring process for input about the kinds of questions you want to ask references. Those who have interviewed or interacted with the candidate may want to ask for elaboration on a specific qualification or project, or they may want to ask about soft skills such as communication or teamwork.

  • Ask Consistent Questions – Ask each reference the same questions to avoid the possibility of unconscious bias. These questions should aim to determine something about the candidate’s performance or credentials, and should avoid personal questions that could be discriminatory.

  • Verify Items on the Resume – This is especially important if you are looking for specific experience. If a project or credential makes a candidate stand out, follow up by asking references how the person contributed or performed in that situation.

  • Consider Using a Third-Party Service – A third-party service like Checkster can help you automate the reference check process and receive more comprehensive feedback. Checkster sends surveys to references and aggregates the data in reports so that you can get big picture insights about the candidate.


Questions to Ask Candidate References

What questions should you ask when conducting a reference check? Here are some standard questions you can use to gain insight and context on the candidate’s previous work experience:

  • What were the candidate’s starting and ending dates?
  • What was his or her title?
  • What were his or her daily job duties and expectations?
  • What are the candidate’s greatest strengths?
  • Where could they improve?
  • What was his or her most notable achievement while working for you?
  • How did this candidate work with managers and others on the team?
  • How did he or she interact with customers?
  • Why did the candidate leave your organization?
  • If given the chance, would you hire this candidate again?

The goal of these questions is to verify what the candidate has told you on the resume and in the interview, and to draw out additional details from those who have worked with the candidate.

When structured and conducted well, reference checks help separate mediocre candidates from great ones. Make sure you have multiple references to contact, that your questions are designed to draw out the information you are looking for, and that you follow all legal and compliance guidelines. As part of your strategic hiring process, well-designed reference checks give you confidence in your talent decisions even when the interview process looks different for a remote work environment.

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