In an excerpt from his book Hiring Smart, Pierre Mornell reveals the best reference check strategy I’ve heard of. It’s fast and tip toes around the liability issues: ask a person’s references to call you back if the person was outstanding.
Call references at what you assume will be their lunchtime–you want to reach an assistant or voice mail. If it’s voice mail, leave a simple message. If it’s an assistant, be sure that he or she understands the last sentence of your message. You say: “Jane Jones is a candidate for (the position) in our company. Your name has been given as a reference. Please call me back if the candidate was outstanding.” The results are both immediate and revealing. If the candidate is outstanding, I guarantee that people will respond quickly and want to help. Take such a response as a green light. Proceed to the next level by checking out the individual. However, if only 2 or 3 of the 10 references selected by the candidate return your call, this message is also loud and clear. And yet – No derogatory information has been shared. No libelous statements have been made. No confidences or laws have been broken.
Brilliant. Mornell also advises you to ask the candidate beforehand, “What am I likely to hear — positive and negative — when I call your references?”
Elsewhere in the article, Mornell suggests saying “We have about five more minutes…” before closing the interview. This will prompt a last-minute, crucial disclosure or statement from the candidate:
Pay attention when the candidate says, “By the way…,” “Oh, one more thing…,” and “I almost forgot…,” which means, “This is the most important thing I’m going to say.” In my psychiatry practice, I always announced when we were coming to the end of an hour, both as the timekeeper and because I knew there was another patient in my waiting room. Men and women invariably say something that’s really important at this point, regardless of the time we’ve already spent together.