The purpose of this column is to explain how to use a standard reference check as a marketing and/or recruiting opportunity for you and your recruiting firm. While some firms outsource their reference checks to third party agencies or to their clients themselves, for those who prefer to check references directly, I offer some key strategies for obtaining new clients and new candidates at the same time.
Typically, recruiters who check references have a single goal in mind — to check the reference (and hope that it is positive!). After reading this column, I recommend that you consider having two additional goals:
- Try to gain a new client;
- Try to recruit the reference source.
Aggressive? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely.
Connect With Decision-Makers
Historically, reference checks were viewed as a necessary evil in the due diligence process irrespective of who conducted them. In my 20+ years of recruiting, I never knew anyone who particularly enjoyed reference checking until I learned that it was one of the easiest and best ways to reach key decision-makers in an organization with a minimum of resistance.
Undeniably, one of the greatest frustrations a recruiter has is to be able to speak directly to potential hiring authorities. Traditionally, many reference checkers are simply routed to HR. for a generic and worthless “name, rank, serial number” conversation.
Get Names, Phone Numbers
When you request references from a candidate, you should ask for names of their direct supervisors, as well as other individuals in the company with whom they worked closely. The benefit of such references are obvious — you, as the reference checker, will be able to get a true sense of the candidate’s abilities and experience, as well as being able to market your services (at the same time) to those individuals who can benefit from a recruiting relationship with you.
As another tip, I recommend getting the candidate to give you the reference’s direct dial number, or, ideally, their cell phone number (only with the reference’s permission). You want to ensure that you have direct communication with the reference source if at all possible.
Once you connect with the reference, the key to creating new value is to focus on building rapport quickly, and asking relevant open-ended questions. While your first and foremost goal is to conduct a proper and complete reference check for your client, you should also create valuable communication opportunities to learn about the reference source’s company and personal background, experience and career goals. Aside from the traditional reference check questions, here are some other sample questions that can help facilitate this two-way rapport building:
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- How long did you and the candidate work together? During that time, what was your job title/position?
- Did you enjoy working with the candidate? If so, why? If not, why?
- How long have you been with your current company? Where were you before?
- What is your professional background and experience?
- What did you like most about the candidate’s skills?
- What did you like the most about the candidate’s personality?
- In your experience, what type of person works best on your team? How does the candidate rank historically with others that have held the same position?
- What did you do when the candidate left your company? Did you hire someone else? How was that process for you?
‘You’ and ‘Your’ Builds Rapport
In all these questions, notice that all of them include the word “you” and “your”. The reason for this is simple — you are obtaining information that is directly important to the reference themselves and requires their direct input. This gives you a bridge to discuss other topics such as their current position, their satisfaction, their goals, etc.
At all times, be professional, listen carefully and determine if they are “opening the window” for you to market yourself and your services. If you sense that there is not an opportunity to do so, nothing is lost. But if there is a chance for enhanced communication, then, by all means, do it.
I would research the reference source before making the call. For example, if they have a company bio online, a LinkedIn profile or other public information, you might find rapport building items you can use. If possible, I would also ask my candidate to tell you about the reference’s personality, interests, hobbies, and likes in an effort to build a genuine and sincere rapport as quickly as possible. In all events, I would make sure to leave the reference my contact information and/or promotional material via their private/personal email “just in case” they want to reach out to me in the future.
The harsh realities of today’s marketplace dictate trying new and innovative strategies to build our business and reference checking as a marketing tool should be seriously considered. Good luck!