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Reference Interview

Testing what you learned

After the three interviews everything matches up, in your head the candidate already works for you. You may be tempted to skip the reference checks and make an offer now.
Don't skip the reference checks!!!
Don't ask for references!! We select who to call from the contacts we gathered in the Who interview and then we ask the reference to provide another reference. Great people always have many colleges who are ready to say great things about the individual.
Example from retired vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, Robert Hurst. "We hired a chief financial officer. WE were not allowed to make reference calls because she wanted to keep her candidacy a secret. She was a disaster. Her problem was she was too used to process and routine. She moved to a place that is more complicated and stressful, and she could not handle the stress. Without having a chance to do reference calls, you lose 25 percent of the information you should know."
64% of business moguls conduct reference calls for every hire, not just the ones at the top.

Conducting a successful reference interview

Pick the right references- review your notes from the Who Interview and pick the bosses, peers and subordinates with whom you would like to speak. Don't just use the list the candidate gives you.
Ask the candidate to contact the references to set up the calls. We have found that you have twice the chance of actually getting to talk to a reference if you ask the candidate to set up the interview.nConduct the right number of reference interviews. We recommend 7 total but if hiring out of school or candidate with little experience be sure to reach out to the boss, peers, subordinates and customers (if applicable).

Reference Interview Questions

In what context did you work with the person?
What were the person's biggest strengths? (ask for multiple examples)
What were the person's biggest areas for improvement back then?
How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating? (red flag should go up if there are wide discrepancies between what the candidate said in the screening interview and what the reference said. You are looking for 8,9,10 anything below is a red flag)
The person mentioned that you might say he/she struggled with ___________ in that job. Can you tell me more about that? (wording is important "you might say". This suggests to the reference that he/she has permission to talk about the subject because the candidate raised it.
Example. Candidate admitted during interview, "You may hear grumbling from my past team about my unwillingness to share information. But we were a public company, so I could not share everything with everyone." In the reference call with a past subordinate, we primed the pump and said, "The CEO mentioned that subordinates may grumble about his unwillingness to share information. Can you tell me about that?" The subordinate said, "Did he say that? That's not it. It's that the liar would never share any negative feedback to your face, but once you walked out of the room, he'd stab you in the back six ways to Sunday!" Bingo! This is why you do reference checks, people can fake their way through interviews but its much tougher when you reference check multiple people he/she worked with in the past)

Words of wisdom

Don't forget to get curious! What, How, Tell me More
We believe people don't change much, they aren't mutual funds. Past performance really is an indicator of future performance.
The best way to learn about a CEO is not to talk to their bosses, but to their subordinates.
References from your own network offer yet another avenue for gathering objective, unbiased data. If you or your team knows a reference not given by the candidate by all means use it.
You want to hear real enthusiasm in the reference's voice. Luke warm or qualified praise also is likely to signal ambivalence or worse about a candidate."Faint praise in the reference interview is bad praise".
Hearing and understanding the code for risky candidates- We must learn to read between the lines when speaking for references. In general, people don't like to give a negative reference. They want to help their former colleagues, not hurt them. They want to avoid conflict.
If they just confirm dates of employment and say nothing more, that is a bad sign.
Example red flags - "If you are willing to have a guy disagree with you, then hire this person." Using the "if....then" wording is something you must watch out for.
Um's and er's - The reference who hesitates with tough questions. When you ask, "How did so-and-so do?" You want to hear tremendous enthusiasm, not ums and ers and carefully selected words.
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