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Smart Conversations: Reference Check Is An Opportunity To Knowing Your Candidate More

Smart conversations may help seek very meaningful conclusions. Reference Checking must be able to get the right response from referees about candidate's ability to learn, adapt and grow in complex and demanding job portfolios

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A few months ago, I received a call from a senior HR person of a retail company based out of Dubai trying to check credentials of a senior sales person who worked with me few years ago with a company from the same industry. The HR person sounded rather in a hurry and came straight to asking if the person was good to hire. To his bewilderment, rather than an answer, consecutively came another question from my end. I enquired about the context of his ask with regard to what sort of classification he was seeking. In my personal opinion, every person has some defining attribute that delivers in some context and does not in some other.

Most of these attributes cannot be merely slotted into big or bad silos. Anyways, without really listening to my side of the conversation, with any amount of eagerness whatsoever, he nonchalantly jumped on to the next waiting Q. His next request for information was how I considered his past and what opinion I hold as per his performance in the previous organisation and also of his capabilities in delivering the same in future. Now again, history can be based on facts and figures but future depends upon a lot of abstract aspects including career preparedness. He sounded almost dismayed with my counter question on what is the business model of the company, what are the KRAs and JD of the position and what types of sales channels will he be handling. There was a deep silence on the other side for almost a minute, it appeared that dismay had turned into disgust by now and he was clearly not in the mood to fielding any question further.

While Reference Checking is a critical part of the hiring process, in my personal experience it is not given the due importance it should. Reference Checking is often seen as a small piece of the recruitment protocol before a formal offer or appointment letter is extended to a candidate. What drives the task must be a very holistic goal of assessing the strengths or limitations of the candidate. An unbiased analysis based on realistic perspectives of relevant external observers can contribute immensely to the overall success of the company. It will be a grave mistake of considering this process merely as a formality of confirming basic information or facts as mentioned in a candidate's resume. It can be very damaging if a candidate has vastly overstated his experience, qualifications or there happens to be any sort of ghosts or skeletons in his professional closet. Reference checking if conducted with a proficient approach can provide close to the accurate estimate of a candidate and how he may perform in specific situations or challenges with a minimal focus on negative aspects of an employee. The process can throw logical opportunities for HR to know a candidate better for fulfilling long-term objectives of a company without relying too much on instincts alone.

While the usual kind of reference is where the HR checks with the people the candidate has recommended, it is also suggested that HRs actively look out for 'around-the-back-door' references where they check in with people they or senior team members know of who are also known to the candidate. The latter type of references can highlight various dimensions of a candidate not known even to candidate's familiar references. While it may be challenging to find the right connection, professional associations or networks or past overlapping employee networks can help. Linkedin is also handy.

Ideally, Reference Checking if undertaken by hiring supervisors or department heads can be most effective as they hold the utmost familiarity with the duties and responsibilities of the required position, the HR departments can further tighten the process as per a specific framework designed by the company and performed with an unambiguous demeanour hence they take the active role in conducting these.

Whosoever may be assigned to the task, it is critical that the people who conduct the Reference Checks must know in detail and depth about the organisational culture, the new person should be able to come together with the team, knowledge about what sort of leadership was he either guided by or may guide others also helps decide future course of actions. In jobs like sales, it is important to understand differences between B2B and B2C or between distributor or retail markets and that they demand different skill sets. The HR person must comprehend the business environments well and be prepared thoroughly to recruit well. Surprisingly, some of the very reputed companies have outsourced a sensitive and insightful process like Reference Checking to third party agencies which therefore has become a sheer formality.

The use of heavyweight words or rather organisational terms like leadership, teamwork, management, passion, accountability, transparency et all in the process are only abstract jargons and may yield very minimal outcome or futile responses, the success of the process and that it brings forth relevant results is based on breaking down all such terms into attributes or traits.

Smart conversations may help seek very meaningful conclusions. Reference Checking must be able to get the right response from referees about candidate's ability to learn, adapt and grow in complex and demanding job portfolios. Examples must be sought where the candidate has demonstrated hallmarks of potential with respect to his engagement, insights, perseverance and innovation and turned the tides.

For companies it can be almost impossible to attain a zero firing rate, but then that is exactly what companies must aspire for and precise or close to precise Reference Checks can be the first step to achieving it.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Dr Yasho V Verma

Dr Yasho V Verma is a Management Thinker & Philosopher, a Mentor and a Strategy Consultant, an Academician and a Veteran in consumer durables and retail. He was formerly associated with LG Electronics as its COO and Director. Currently he is consulting with World Bank. He is also a member on Board of Dena Bank and an advisor to Videocon. Besides, he is in the board of few other business houses across various industry verticals and consults them on plans and policies.

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