March 2016

Revisit your reference-checking procedures before peak hiring season

School HR departments will soon be headed full-speed into another hiring cycle in preparation for the 2016‒17 school year. This is a good time for HR departments to review their reference-checking process to ensure they get pertinent feedback on the suitability of the candidates they want to hire.
 
As with all HR processes, there are important dos and don’ts to keep in mind. The dos are as follows: 
  • Contact applicants to let them know their references will be contacted to avoid breaking the news.
  • Conduct reference checks on all candidates. Ask for at least three references per candidate.
  • Speak to people who worked with the candidate daily within the last five to seven years, particularly supervisors.
  • Ask job-related questions, tailored to the position the individual will fill in your district.
  • Pay attention to what references don’t say. Very general, hesitant, or neutral responses might indicate that the employee was a mediocre performer.
  • Ask behavior-based, open-ended questions, such as, “How would you describe John’s performance?”
  • When hiring teachers, ask for teacher evaluation records.
The don’ts are as follows: 
  • Avoid yes or no questions.
  • Don’t forget that the references given by your applicant often have a positive bias. Build rapport with them to get a balanced picture of an applicant.
  • Don’t hold it against a candidate if an employer does not allow employees to give meaningful references. Just ask for an additional reference.
  • Don’t use electronic media to screen candidates without establishing rules:
    • Limit searches to information in the public domain.
    • Don’t ask for user names or passwords to access private social media sites.
    • The person who will decide whether to hire an applicant should not conduct online searches. That way, he or she won’t accidentally learn of information that can’t legally be used in a hiring decision.
  • Don’t forget to ask the reference if anything else should be discussed as you wrap up the conversation. This is your last chance to get information of value.
Common questions to ask of references include the following:
  • What are your overall impressions of the candidate?
  • What were his or her job responsibilities?
  • Was he or she successful in his or her role? Why or why not?
  • What was it like to supervise the person?
  • Was the person a valuable member of the team? Why or why not?
  • What unique skills did he or she bring to your organization?
  • What were his or her strengths?
  • What were his or her weaknesses or areas that needed improvement?
  • Was the person ever disciplined? If so, what were the circumstances?
  • Do you think the person is suitable for the job he or she applied for?
  • Why did the person leave?
  • Would you rehire him or her?
For additional information on checking references, consult the HR Library’s Employment Reference Check page (member log-in required).