Using References As a Screening Tool

HR Tech Insights logoThe big challenge in recruiting is getting high quality information so that one can accurately match a candidate to a job. One potentially underutilized source of good information is references. Most companies use reference checking towards the end of the recruiting process and often it’s mainly to ensure there isn’t some derailer they’ve overlooked. Even this limited use of references is sometimes derided because people are loath to give anything but praise when asked for a reference.

However, one can also imagine that a number of serious conversations with people who had worked with the candidate before could be a fabulous source of insight. In fact, it could be such a good source of insight that you’d like to use it as a screening tool before deciding who to bring into an interview.

The biggest barrier to interviewing references early in the process is that it is labor intensive. Since interviewing will be a non-starter, we need to use questionnaires, and we need to be able to automate their use. That is what Day 100 does. If they are able to frame questions in a way that truly distinguishes good candidates from poor ones, then this will be a useful new tool for recruiters.

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What is interesting?

  • Day 100 is flipping around the recruiting process so that reference checking, normally done near the end of the process, is done near the beginning.
  • In the past you would have to rely on getting the names of references from the candidate, now there is the possibility of finding out with whom the person has worked from social media and question those people.

What is really important?

  • For a questionnaire to work it has to ask the right questions; and that’s no easy feat. The best questions will also vary from job to job; although it’s possible that some standard questions will prove predictive across many jobs. The fate of Day 100 will rest on its ability to demonstrate that the process delivers valuable insights.
  • There is a risk that the people asked to give the reference will resist filling in the questionnaire, or may not give fully honest answers; we’ll just have to try it out to see if those are significant issues.

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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