The number one way for a company to protect itself from a bad hire is to weed out those bad applicants with thorough screening — before they’re given an offer letter. Non-biased referencing (NBR) is the best way to find out prior work history, and the only way to ensure an applicant is as great in the real world as he looks on paper.
NBR ensures the same questions are asked in the same order for every applicant, and allows the hiring party to set questions of importance to that specific position.
Many times, companies either don’t do referencing or do it in order to check off that they did their due diligence. However, they may ask questions and phrase them in a way that will garner the answers they are hoping for. NBR takes out all personal feelings and judgments and allows the facts to stand on their own.
While performing a NBR, it’s important to have an order to the questions to allow a past employer to tell a story and paint a complete picture. Asking questions in a disjointed way does not allow for elaboration or followup questions, or create a conversational flow between the two parties.
Having a set of form questions also allows the checker to become familiar with the order of the questions so they spend less time focusing on what’s coming up or what they should ask, and they can be present in the answers — picking up on pauses, sighs and all non-verbal codes. It sets up a fair playing ground.
When the recruitment process has been narrowed down to two candidates, the NBR can be the deciding factor. Questions that may not seem relevant may provide answers that put one of those candidates out of the running, saving a company from a potentially high-cost, bad hire.
Incorporating the process
There are many easy ways of incorporating NBR into the hiring process. Set a criteria for who you will take references from. Are you OK with those of co-workers or will you only accept supervisors? Supervisors are recommended because following direction is a real skill and a co-worker won’t have that experience with a candidate.
It’s then important to establish a timeframe. Dating is an important part of establishing work history. If a candidate has unexplained work gaps, but is trying to cover them up with misdating, that is a red flag.
Also, ask questions that provide a rateable response. How many sick days did the candidate take? How much direction did she require? Questions like these put all candidates on the same scale as opposed to questions that have open-ended answers. Asking, “Did the applicant ever take sick time?” can result in a yes or no answer with no real qualifying answer.
It’s also a good idea to add actual rating scale questions into the NBR. For example, “On a scale of one to 10, how good was the applicant at time management... taking direction... working with others... computer programs?” This requires more rapid answers from the reference and allows for a comparison between two candidates if needed. Most of the time, when people get to the referencing portion of the recruiting process, they are fairly certain about the applicant and just hoping for confirmation.
The insights that can be learned about applicants from past employers is staggering — and not just in negative areas of misrepresentation. Applicants may be uncomfortable talking about themselves or more introverted, but then their references give glowing reviews. There have also been applicants who were amazing throughout the interview process but the NBR shows they had major issues that affected their day-to-day work.
Gut feelings can be wrong and, as humans, it is our nature to want to believe in the best in people. But bad hires cost big bucks and can be very damaging to staff morale.
With a clear process, good questions and proper follow-through, non-biased referencing will help employers make the right decision based on facts — not feelings.
Mandy DeCecco-Kolebaba is partner and director of operations at Hire Standard in Lethbridge, Alta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.hire-standard.com.
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