Hiring outside talent always proves challenging. Does this person have the right capabilities given our needs? Will they be a cultural fit? How fast can they hit the ground running? Can they lead a team effectively? The interview process sheds some light on these questions, but we still see many hiring mistakes. Can a good reference check process improve the success rate? Perhaps, but... Reference checks pose their own set of challenges, as this article by Vicki Elmer at Fortune indicates.
What's the problem with reference checks? First, the candidate naturally provides names of folks who are likely to offer positive recommendations. Second, references often are hesitant to say bad things about former colleagues or employees. In some cases, they even worry about possible litigation that might result from their comments. Third, hiring companies may be limited in terms of the people they can contact because of confidentiality concerns. If the candidate's current employer does not know they are searching for a position, a reference check can create a sticky situation.
How does one overcome these challenges? Elmer suggests asking better questions when conducting a reference check. In the end, though, even great questions won't overcome these limitations cited above. Companies need to examine the entire hiring process and try to find better ways to assess capabilities, evaluate cultural fit, and examine one's ability to collaborate effectively with others. Firms can begin to improve the search process if they find ways to see the candidate in action. Asking them to make a presentation on a key topic, work together with other candidates on a team exercise, conducting team interviews, and other such tactics can prove enlightening. More companies need to embrace these types of interview tactics if they want to improve their batting averages.