Gisela Lesar, human resources director at G4S Namibia. Photo Contributed
Gisela Lesar, human resources director at G4S Namibia. Photo Contributed

Are reference checks outdated?

Change tactics
Many organisations do not feel comfortable giving up on reference checks, but perhaps it is time to change the way they are done to enhance their value.
Gisela Lesar
Most organisations conduct reference checks not only to verify employee information, but also as part of compliance.However, is this practice outdated? In my experience, 95% of reference checks are positive, and that is enough to raise suspicion that they could not all be accurate. I personally would never put a reference on my resume that would outright say something bad about me, so why would anyone else? So do reference checks truly give an accurate picture of a candidate?

In my experience, not always. Not to question the integrity of candidates, but I have done a few references where I was pretty sure that the person on the other line was not a previous line manager but rather a friend or family member. There are instances where line managers want to get rid of certain "problem" employees and therefore give great references.

It is also not always great for the employee. Sometimes employees leave a company due to toxic leadership – imagine having to use that person as a reference. The knife cuts both ways.

It is also very time-consuming and can be pretty annoying for a previous manager to have to sit and talk for 30 minutes while they are busy at work.

Change strategy

So is the answer to just skip reference checks? Maybe not completely, but it is possible to change the game plan a little bit. Firstly, start by interviewing better, assessing better, and asking more probing reference questions. If possible, let the candidate demonstrate a skill that you are looking for, e.g., typing.

Ask a candidate primarily for a former manager’s number and focus on three key areas: cultural fit, personality fit and performance.

Cultural fit can help a recruiter determine if an employee will fit into the organisation. Before making an offer, it is critical to determine whether a candidate is toxic, like-minded and adaptable.

Personality fit is not a question of whether a person’s personality is a fit for the organisation but rather an indication of how the employee needs to be managed. Asking behavioural questions can provide a good indication of how employees react in certain circumstances.

Together with asking about specific performance, companies should find out what major drivers keep workers motivated and engaged. Each employee is driven by particular rewards or strategies. Companies can determine whether or not they can realistically keep the potential employee interested by understanding this during the interview stage.

There is no perfect answer.

Many organisations do not feel comfortable giving up on reference checks altogether, which I can relate to. So maybe it is time to change the way we do them. Let’s focus on three key areas that can add value to the organisation and stop asking questions that don’t, for the benefit of both the organisation and the candidate.

Gisela Lesar is the human resources director at G4S Namibia.


Allgemeine Zeitung 2023-03-28

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