Technology is Turning Reference Checks Into Assessments

One of the biggest challenges of recruiting is quality of information. We all know that resumes tell us relatively little and doing structured interviews is expensive. As I discussed in “Using References as a Screening Tool,” technology has given the old sport of reference checking a new life.

Ray Bixler, CEO of SkillSurvey, thinks we can take reference checking even further, he says we can take it down the path towards scientific assessments.

Traditional reference checks are largely fact checking: Did they do the work they said they did? Are they a jerk? There is no reason you couldn’t send a survey that asks the same sort of questions you’d put in a psychometric assessment test. There’s every reason to believe that reports from managers, co-workers, staff and customers will provide better information than a questionnaire filled in by the person themselves.

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This is not just speculation, Bixler’s SkillSurvey has done millions of reference checks and had I/O psychologists run the data just as they would with any psychometric assessment:  The psychologists build assessment models for specific job families and validate the model against new hires’ performance. This turns a reference checking exercise into a properly predictive assessment tool.

What is interesting?

  • A few people do try to fake the results, but you can usually detect this by checking email addresses and IP addresses.
  • 85% of people asked to complete the reference assessment do so within 2 days.
  • The results are rarely used to completely rule out a candidate; but it does provide insight into strengths and weaknesses.
  • The people asked to give references may turn out to be good candidates themselves.

What is really important?

  • Technology continues to offer better ways to gather and analyze information that can lead to more effective recruiting.
  • Recruiting departments need a certain “R&D” budget to investigate the constant waves of new technologies lest they fall behind in this constant war for the best tools.

Note to my readers: I’m always interested in innovative firms that signal where HR is heading. I love these firms that are striving to make a difference, but many are startups and a mention does not necessarily mean they’ll be right for you.

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, is a globally recognized thinker on people analytics and talent management. Some of his more interesting projects included:

  • Conducted workshops around the world on the practical aspects of people analytics
  • Took business leaders from Japan’s Recruit Co. on a tour of US tech companies (Recruit eventually bought for $1 billion)
  • Studied the relationship between Boards and HR (won Walker Award)
  • Spoke at the World Bank in Paris on HR reporting
  • Co-authored Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan. The book was endorsed by the CHROs of IBM, LinkedIn and Starbucks.
  • Worked with Dr. Wanda Wallace on “Leading when you are not the expert” which topped the “Most Popular List” on the Harvard Business Review’s blog.
  • Worked with Dr. Henry Mintzberg on peer coaching, David’s learning modules are among the most popular topics.

Currently David is helping organizations to get on-track with people analytics.

This work led to him being made a Fellow for the Centre of Evidence-based Management (Netherlands) for his contributions to the field.



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