Checking Candidate References

“Please list three professional references.”

When you set out to design a hiring process for your organization, you didn’t start from scratch. It’s likely that you or your predecessor were handed some guidelines or best practices. You may have even wholesale copied another company’s policies and procedures. But regardless of your starting point, it’s probably safe to say that your hiring process is more similar to those at other organizations than it is different.

One common feature of the hiring process is the “request for references.” It is included in employment applications at most organizations. And while its benefits are plain, the amount of time invested in checking candidate references can raise serious concerns around ROI. In other words, is a candidate reference worth the investment of time and resources it takes to chase (and chase and chase and chase) it down?

To answer that question, you’ll need to establish the value of a professional reference, and that is pretty difficult to estimate. To do it, you’ll need the answers to other questions:

  1. What is the probability that my candidate is a bad fit?
  2. What is the probability that my candidate is lying on the application?
  3. What is the probability that the references will help answer questions #1 and #2?
  4. What is the cost ($/hour) for the staff member in charge of checking references?
  5. How much time does it take to request and receive a completed reference?
  6. What is the cost of re-hiring for any given position because of a bad hire?

Maximizing ROI of Checking Candidate References

Of course, you can just instinctively say, “Yes reference checks are worth it!”, because who wants to risk not checking candidate references, right? Well, mathematically realistically speaking, that’s probably the right answer. But that begs another question: If we cannot measure the value of checking candidate references, how can we increase the ROI of candidate references?

Answer: Drastically cut down on the time and cost required to conduct reference checks!

Let’s just go ahead and assume that to manually conduct a reference check (staff member calls/emails), the cost is roughly $180 per open position. At a SMB that hires for 50 positions per year, that would put the overall cost at $9,000 annually. So the SMB is paying $9,000 to minimize the risk of needing to re-hire and to avoid the associated costs. That is not a negligible expense for most SMBs.

So while we can’t easily assign a dollar value to candidate references and determine the true ROI, we can decrease our investment in checking candidate references to maximize our ROI. In the chart below you can see this illustrated: As the investment decreases, the ROI increases when assuming the gross return (value of candidate reference) is constant.

  • Investment*
  • $9,000
  • $5,000
  • $1,200
  • Gross Return**
  • $9,000
  • $9,000
  • $9,000
  • Net Return
  • $0
  • $4,000
  • $7,800
  • ROI (%)
  • 0%
  • 80%
  • 650%

*Cost to Conduct Check

**Value of Candidate Reference/Cost to Re-hire

Software For Checking Candidate References

Over the past several years, the Human Resources industry has seen an explosion of new software solutions that can handle everything from recruiting, applicant management, and onboarding; to payroll, benefits, and employee engagement. Some of these solutions are complex, expensive enterprise-level services, while others are affordable, scaled-down solutions that provide SMBs with the tools to grow and compete with much larger businesses.

Reference check software is an HR technology that has flown below the radar. The larger solutions–in terms of functionality and price tag–have stolen much of the attention; these include applicant tracking software and payroll software, among others. However, reference check software is a technology that effectively addresses a pain that every HR professional knows well for a price that is very affordable for most businesses.

Beyond issues of price and utility, reference check software is often designed to improve your outcomes. What do I mean by that? Well, consider this likely scenario for when a staff member is manually checking candidate references:

  • The staff member must follow up multiple times with multiple references.
  • When a reference does respond, it’s likely only because the reference wants to end the ceaseless following up (they are annoyed); and so the staff member is dealing with a “let’s just get this done” attitude.
  • Staff member likely picks up on this attitude and may hurry through the questions, taking quick notes, in deference to the reference.
  • When the call is complete, the staff member moves onto contacting another reference.
  • Later, the staff member reviews notes for each reference and pieces together responses based on notes and their recollection.

Now, reference checking doesn’t always happen as described above, but it’s probably a pretty accurate description for small departments that are stretched too thin. The results of this scenario include inconsistent questioning, varying responses that don’t lend themselves to “apple to apple” comparisons, missed or skipped questions, and–in some cases–a failure to even succeed in connecting with the reference. By design, reference check software can overcome these challenges and avoid the poor results as well.

Reference check software reimagines and restructures the common workflow for checking candidate references. By leveraging automation and and cloud-based technology, reference checking software dramatically simplifies the once labor intensive process of checking references. This is great news for the sanity of HR professionals everywhere, but the potential return on an investment in reference checking software will make business owners and executives take notice as well.

What is the true ROI of checking candidate references? Determining this may indeed be impossible, but maximizing it has never been easier.

ExactHire provides hiring and onboarding software for small- to medium-sized businesses. Contact us today to learn how a small investment in the right software will optimize your manual reference checking process and enhance your outcomes.

Common Problems With The Pre-Employment Screening Process

You’re in the homestretch of filling a vacant position within your organization. You have at least one candidate you are confident will help meet, or possibly exceed, your organization’s goals and objectives in this vacant role.

The last item before crossing the finish line: pre-employment screening.

Sometimes, pre-employment screening can feel like you have hit “the wall” over the course of a marathon instead of feeling the elation of crossing the finish line. There are plenty of problems that can present themselves as obstacles to a smooth pre-employment screening process. However, there are ways to overcome these issues. In this blog, I’ll review some ways to ensure you finish the course with a win…but first let me offer my definition of what the screening process includes.

What Is Pre-Employment Screening?

Pre-employment screening is the process of researching and investigating a potential hire’s background for possible red-lights that could affect: 1) employee performance; and/or, 2) the organization’s safety and/or reputation if this person was hired. Pre-employment screening can include conducting a criminal history background check, drug test, employment assessments and/or contacting reference information submitted by the potential hire to acquire additional information about the person.

Contacting references is a key component of pre-employment screening in the vast majority of professional fields. Communicating with a candidate’s references can give the hiring manager and/or selection committee valuable insight on the potential hire’s past behaviors. Some of those behaviors may be ideal and complement your organization’s culture…while other behaviors may not. Unfortunately, there is no crystal ball to predict how a new hire will acclimate to your organization’s culture, but getting perspectives from references can help provide some insight. According to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, hiring the wrong individual could cost approximately $50,000 to an organization. If there is a cycle of hiring poorly fitting individuals, the negative financial impact will continue in a downward spiral.

The Reference Chasing Game

When a candidate provides references during the interview process, the following information is often included: Reference Name and Title; Reference Email; Reference Contact Phone Number; and, possibly Number of Years Known and/or the Relationship to the Potential Hire. With this information, the hiring manager can start the communication contact process.

Does this sound familiar?

Pick up the phone and call the reference…
Leave a Message…
Wait patiently for a return call…
Send an email…
Wait patiently for a return email…
Attempt to contact the reference again via both methods if too much time passes…
Tick Tock Tick Tock.

Time is of the essence! There is a job to fill! “Tick tock tick tock” are the sounds that the hiring manager might be hearing. The “tick tock” is not just for the waiting game of collecting reference data. It is also reflective of the downtime that is occurring within the organization since that job opening is still vacant. Most likely, another person is trying to cover that role in addition to fulfilling to his/her own role, too. And, it’s not just “tick tock” being heard; it’s the sound of a cash register getting depleted during this waiting game, too. Vacant positions cost money, especially when keeping downtime and other co-workers’ overtime costs in mind.

Issues With Reference Feedback

So you’ve made contact with a reference–great news! It’s time to ask questions relating to the performance and job duties of the potential hire, and to learn more about the duration and type of work relationship between the potential hire and the reference contact. Acquiring this information might not be as easy as it sounds. Some references are hesitant to give meaningful feedback in fear of legal liability or hurting the candidate’s feelings.

Additionally, if reference questions are not phrased to ask for specific information and examples, the reference provider might give general statements that are too subjective and not helpful in providing a clear view of the potential hire. It is important for the reference checker to be consistent with the questions (s)he asks and the manner in which the feedback is documented. If the feedback is documented inconsistently, the feedback can be skewed and hard to interpret by the hiring manager and/or others on the selection team.

Automated Pre-Employment Screening Solutions

Paperless reference checking software provides organizations with an efficient means to collect reference information. Organizations can ask a potential hire to provide contact information for individuals willing to serve as the potential hire’s references. The references would be asked to provide anonymous feedback regarding the potential hire on a variety of competencies selected by the hiring organization. By submitting anonymous feedback, individuals serving as references are more comfortable providing constructive criticism and testimonials.

References click the link in an email invitation and are informed that their feedback will not be shared with the potential hire and that their responses will be aggregated with other references. This promotes a stronger feeling of anonymity and leads to more honest feedback. Reference check software provides a consistent means to collect and evaluate information provided by the potential hires’ references.

Criminal history background checks and drug tests are additional ways for an organization to screen potential hires. It is crucial that Pre-Employment Screening checks, especially criminal history and drug test results, are kept confidential and secure. ExactHire offers confidential, paperless methods that can be integrated within our HireCentric applicant tracking system to collect highly sensitive, key information that you need to make that crucial hiring decision with more confidence.

Behavioral and cognitive employee assessments can also yield tremendous insight into the skills and abilities of a potential hire. Also, role-specific assessments, such as Microsoft Excel testing for financial roles, can provide tangible results to see how well a potential hire can use a specific tool that is a key resource for daily use in that particular job role. When choosing any type of assessment, thoroughly research the platform to learn how the assessment data is collected and measured.

Having access to these types of pre-employment screening tools can help an organization overcome problems that frequent the traditional pre-employment screening process. Filling a vacant role can lead to some apprehension, but with the different data collection options that exist through ExactHire, we can help alleviate that apprehension. When you conduct pre-employment screening using these tools, know that the confidential and secure information you acquire is based on the neutral objective you have–hiring the right fit for the role and the organization as a whole.

For more information about any of our hiring software tools, please visit our resources section or contact ExactHire today!

Image credit: screen door by bradleygee (contact)

How to Overcome Employment Screening Challenges in Small Business

I know from experience: being part of a small human resources department often creates a close-knit team, but the workload can make you long to clone yourself a few doppelgangers. Small business HR professionals are often slowed down with manual processes, like ordering background checks and chasing down references. Moreover, they are often pulled away to put out unexpected “fires”; thus, making it difficult to get to every to-do on time. That’s why more small- and medium-sized companies are looking for ways to accomplish more without adding expensive overhead in the form of extra HR staff members.

Our ExactHire e-book, The SMB Guide to Superhero Pre-Employment Screening, reviews best practices in pre-employment screening; including, application review, assessments, background checking and reference checking. In chapter six (embedded below) the challenges of traditional reference checking are reviewed. This chapter comments on how automated reference checking software can gather objective feedback more quickly and with little effort.

For the complete resource to help guide you in fighting potential inefficiencies within your organization, download ExactHire’s complete superhero-themed e-book. Think of automating the candidate screening process as a means to arm yourself with enhanced senses and special, super equipment. After all, what would Wonder Woman be without her lasso; or, Spiderman without his webbing?

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook
Image credit: Thunder of Hooves by JD Hancock (contact)

Template for a Consistent, Effective Hiring Process – Whiteboard [VIDEO]

A consistent, effective hiring process is a critical factor when selecting and onboarding employees for your organization. In this whiteboard video, Jeff Hallam of ExactHire discusses how to create a template for a successful process, including the use of tools such as background checking and reference checking.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

Video Transcript:

Hi there, and welcome to another edition of ExactHire Whiteboard Video Chat. I’m Jeff Hallam and today we’re going to talk about how to create a template for a consistent and effective hiring process. And this predominantly applies to small- to mid-sized organizations, and that’s who we work with for the most part. And this is something that when you’re working for a Fortune 500 organization, a lot of these things are already set in stone and you don’t really have much of an opportunity to change those nor debate them. But for many of these organizations that aren’t at that level, the issue of how do we hire, what does it look like and how do we make sure it’s consistent time after time…can be a little elusive because there may not be a person who spearheads that, and/or that person may not have communicated things very effectively up to that point. And so following a handful of very simple things and making sure that there are a few items in place can really help you in your endeavors to make things much better from a hiring perspective.

So the first one is, as you understand what it is that you want to do, make sure that everybody internally who is going to be involved in that process understands what it is, what the steps are, who is going to be involved and what that is going to look like over time. And once everybody understands that, it really sets a groundwork for everything that is going to happen from there. And I know that seems simple, but that miscommunication or lack of communication is usually the number one culprit for why things don’t work the way folks might like in today’s world.

Likewise, once that’s been set, it becomes very easy for people who are involved in the cycle…and I’ve been guilty of this myself in prior worlds…to want to shortcut the process. This is a really hot candidate, this is a really important job…we have to fill it very quickly. We don’t have time to do these things that we have normally done…and as tempting as that is, and understand you have to have some flexibility, understand there will be exceptions. But as much as you can, try to take this process that’s been communicated and defined and avoid that temptation. Try to keep it in place as much as you can…it can really avoid the notion of everybody thinking their job is the exception.

So once you have that platform, and you understand this is kind of what we want it to look like, there are some elements that most everybody agrees should be part of any best practice that you would consider for hiring. And we’ve just listed those here, and very briefly, they start in order of beginning of the process on forward at the front of the train with relevant job descriptions. Unfortunately, a lot of people still use job descriptions the way they did twenty-five, thirty, forty years ago. Very long, very detailed, very lengthy lists of things that somebody has to have, must do, etc. And frankly those are things that candidates just aren’t paying much attention to. What they want is a quick, little bulleted list of: what is this job; what do I need to have to be qualified for it; so that they can make a good quick decision as to whether they are even interested in learning more.

Once you’ve gotten them past that, the next step becomes how can you make it simple for them to let you know they’re interested in the job? When we were in the throes of the recession, employers could ask for a full online application, multiple sets of references, everything except somebody’s first born child it seemed and they would get plenty of applicants. And that’s because people were desperate for work. But now that that’s reversed and is nearly 180 degrees the other way, applicants are very much the ones setting that tone. And they’re not going to, in most cases, be willing to give you a full online application, let alone a full written application, just for the privilege of being considered for your opening. So really give some thought to what you can do to automate that number one, and number two, to only get what you need initially and then perhaps get the rest later. That’s very much a trend we’re seeing and there are a lot of ways that you can do that. So it’s definitely something worth considering.

One of the biggest issues that we see for most organizations is this inability to keep candidates apprised of where they are in the process. Having them know where they are, what the next step is, are they moving forward, if not, make them aware of it, if so, what does that next step look like and what is the timing for it… I cannot stress how important that is. It’s the number one complaint from most candidates and that the easiest way to protect your employment brand is to not let them feel like their resume or application fell into a black hole. Let them know where they are, keep them posted as they go through your cycle.

Something that’s been around for a long time and people sometimes will almost just treat this as a, “yes, I’m done” type of endeavor is checking references. This is another item that’s even become automated now. There are lots of ways that you can make this much more quick, simple, much less laborious. The key to that is making sure that there is consistency there. Much like everything else we are talking about here…make sure the same questions are asked, make sure the feedback is recorded in the same format. Not just for ease of access, but also to give you a point to go back to over time to find out where things might have been missed. Understanding what somebody has done in prior environments can be an invaluable way to get a better feel for how well they are likely to do in your environment.

And finally, performing background checks. As funny is this might be, initially, this is the thought for a lot of people…”I hope they don’t see this,” “I hope they don’t find out I did that,” etc. People have a lot of skeletons in their closet for better or worse, and certainly not everyone, but a much higher percentage of the population than you might think. So dependent upon your organization and what your needs are, making sure that you understand how they’ve done before, and is there anything that could potentially create exposure for your organization if you hire this person, again, are very necessary pieces that have to be in there.

So when think about this notion of, how do I create this template, how do I make my process consistent and more effective, following these three steps…get everybody on board, make sure there is something that keeps everybody from short-cutting what you’ve put in place, and then making sure that some of these key best practices are there as part of that cycle will definitely help you and your organization, not only make the process more consistent, but overall help you hire better.

10 Pre-Employment Screening Best Practices for HR Department of One

If you find yourself being the almighty HR department of one person for your organization, first off, let me congratulate you on your fortitude because that is a tough job. I’ve been in your shoes and when it is just you supporting the HR efforts of a one hundred- to two hundred- employee organization, you need to be efficient to survive and then thrive. Fortunately, there are many options for making your life easier when it comes to pre-employment screening activities. Are you using all ten of these best practices yet?

1 – Do an HR audit to uncover potential liabilities with your current pre-employment screening process

While an HR audit can be a lifesaver in terms of preventing future liability for all areas of human resources, it is especially critical when it comes to assessing the legality of your hiring process. Here are just a few points to cover:

  • Be aware of any “Ban the Box” laws that affect the geographic areas in which you hire employees, as they will regulate whether you may ask about criminal history on your employment application.
  • Make sure that a credit report is only used to screen applicants in consideration for positions that have a job-related necessity for someone with no credit blemishes. Moreover, for those positions that do warrant a credit check, be certain to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and obtain the employee’s written consent at the appropriate point in the process for your industry before seeking the report.
  • Examine your company’s use of social media in the screening process. That can be a slippery slope due to the type of information that can be uncovered about a person. However you approach social media screening, do it consistently across all applicants.
  • Ensure that you don’t ask any questions on the employment application that could reveal an applicant’s disability and violate the ADA.
  • Double check that your employment application doesn’t ask for any unnecessary information too early in the process…for example, Social Security Number. While it can be easier to collect information all at once, the truth is that you would only need that information later at the point of the conditional offer (unless you a have a specific industry exception). Applicants can be creeped out by sharing that in the beginning. Have a protocol for gathering this data electronically once you actually need it.

2 – Document your process and put it where upper management can find it

Especially if you are the only HR person! If something should happen to you, other select members of management should be able to step in to make sure things like SSN verification, background checks, education verification, etc. continue to be conducted on candidates for hire. They should have contact information for any vendors you use for these activities, as well. Have a documented plan of action explaining what happens when credit checks, reference checks and background checks come back with unfavorable news. Otherwise, upper management may not know that if you decide not to hire a person because of information in his/her credit report, for example, you have to give him/her a copy of the report and inform the candidate of the right to challenge the report under the FCRA.

3 – Tell your applicants what to expect from your recruiting process

Your careers website is the perfect place to add a link/page that discusses your entire recruiting and selection process. A short conversation during a preliminary phone interview will also be appreciated by candidates as it sets expectations with them for the probable length of the hiring process. As a result, some candidates that may have been a poor fit will self-select out of the process and save you time.

4 – Develop job-relevant job-specific screening questions

Proactively work with hiring managers…before you get slammed with eight new job postings in a day…to plan questions that will be relevant and that will elicit the types of answers that will help you make sound decisions earlier in the process. This exercise prevents the likelihood of wasting time reviewing unqualified applications later…time that you don’t have to waste.

5 – Use scoring/disqualification filters on application questions

Set up screening question groups in your applicant tracking system to automatically score and/or disqualify applicants based on their answers to both job-specific and standard application multiple choice questions. Then, filter out candidates that fail to meet basic qualifications when you are ready to view applicants for a job.

6 – Use email templates to make communication to applicants quick and easy

Whether you have canned responses saved in your work Gmail account or you build email templates in your recruiting software, it’s a huge timesaver to have commonly used blocks of text ready to go when communicating with candidates. Not only does it reduce the possibility you will make mistakes (thanks to spell check and a restful state of mind when responses are created before they are needed), but it ensures that candidates stay engaged because you are actively communicating with them throughout the recruiting process. People will regard you as a hiring rock star even though there is only one of you in human resources!

7 – Consider pre-employment testing to improve quality of hire

Unfortunately, just because someone is a great interviewer doesn’t mean that he/she will be a great employee for your company. Using an employee assessment as one tool in your selection process toolbox will provide you and hiring managers with incredibly helpful information about the person’s motivations, cognitive abilities and/or job skills…depending on the type(s) of assessments used.

8- Order background checks that include local court criminal record searches

Don’t rely on just a national database check because you will be missing part of the criminal history picture for many applicants. Much of what is recorded at the local and county court level never makes it into the national database. Even though you are with a small organization and trying to keep hiring costs from escalating, don’t skimp on background checks. You could pay for it in negligent hiring claims later.

9 – Make the candidate accountable for quality reference information

The last thing for which you have time is chasing down references and trying to obtain actual quality feedback about your potential new employee. Affordable technology can take the headache out of reference checking and allow your candidate to take ownership with personalized reference invitations that appear to come directly from the candidate, and the ability for the candidate to monitor the responsiveness of his peers. Make sure that any reference check software platform that you use promotes objectivity and allows references to rate potential hires on your selected job-relevant competencies.

10 – Ask your vendor partner(s) for assistance

Even though you are undoubtedly a strong, HR army of one, you’d be crazy not to ask and accept help from your partners when you need it. While technology solution providers will obviously support you on the use of their software, don’t be shy about asking them for tips and best practices for HR processes. And for vendors who handle background checking, drug testing, and credit checks…they can keep you up to date when it comes to complying with regulations. Many providers will handle communication with candidates when unfavorable results arise, as well.

Do you have ideas for other pre-employment screening best practices? What obstacles do you face as an HR department of one? We encourage your comments and ideas, below.

ExactHire provides many hiring software solutions. For more information, please visit our resources page or contact us today.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

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Don’t Hire A Liar – Reference Check Tips

Have you ever looked at a resume and wondered if it was too good to be true? Unfortunately, sometimes that is a legitimate question.

Honesty is always the best policy. This not only applies to personal life, but to professional life as well. Recruiters have limited time to review resumes, so applicants need to convey positive attributes and display themselves in the best light possible on that piece of paper; however, lying–or even exaggerating–is unacceptable. Applicants should be aware that we are all interconnected in this digital age, and verifying resume content is easier than ever through reference and background checking.

Last summer, CareerBuilder conducted a survey of over 2000 employers. Fifty-eight percent of those employers surveyed stated that they had identified one or more lies on a resume. According to the survey, here are the most common lies caught on resumes:



Embellished Skill Set


Embellished Responsibilities


Dates of Employment


Inaccurate Job Title


Academic Degree


Companies Worked For




Looking at some of those points above…candidates need to realize it is not difficult to verify one’s academic degree. By simply calling the Registrar’s Office of the higher education institutions listed on the resume, a recruiter can receive verbal confirmation from the school’s employee that the candidate did or did not graduate with degree XYZ. This information is considered “Directory Information”, and sharing that information is compliant with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

In some careers, particularly health professions careers, there are state and nationwide license verification websites that provide the initial date of certification, license expiration date, and any action taken against the individual’s professional license. All of this information is accessible to the public.

The Importance of Reference Checking

If you have moved through the channels with a candidate and seem impressed enough to prepare an offer, it is important to conduct thorough reference checks to get a better feel for the candidate from different perspectives. Reference checks provide a great opportunity to ask questions about a candidate and get feedback, ideally candid feedback, from other people who know the candidate. It is important to remember, though, that the references provided by the candidate are, in all likelihood, people who have agreed to give a glowing review. If possible, use your professional network to speak with other co-workers of the candidate to gain more in-depth perspectives. These individuals could give an entirely different view of the candidate.

Our HireCentric ATS employment application can be configured to include a section to acquire information from the candidate regarding his/her references. You can request any of the following items:  Reference’s Name, Reference’s Company, Reference’s Phone Number, Reference’s Email, Reference’s Relationship to Applicant, and the Number of Years the Reference has Known the Applicant. You can even designate the number of references you want the applicant to provide.

Making A Plan For Reference Checks

You want to be consistent with the questions you ask of references for all your candidates. Always find out why the candidate left the position listed on their resume, and then consider using this list to guide your discussion (courtesy of HCareers and Laura Smoliar via Inc.):

  • Verify the candidate’s dates of employment, title, and role.
  • Is the candidate eligible for rehire? Why or why not? What was his or her reason for leaving?
  • Determine the candidate’s advancement in the company.  Did the candidate receive any promotions or demotions, or did the candidate remain in the same role throughout her tenure?
  • What was the candidate’s beginning and ending salary? How often did the candidate receive salary increases?
  • What kind of duties and responsibilities were assigned to the candidate? Did the candidate complete them satisfactorily? Did the candidate go above and beyond what was required without being asked?
  • What were the candidate’s strengths as an employee? Would you describe the candidate a hard worker?
  • Ask the reference to evaluate the employee’s performance the tasks likely to be assigned in the new position.
  • Was the employee punctual? Were there any issues with tardiness or absenteeism?
  • Did the employee get along well with her peers? With managers? With customers?
  • Is there anything else I should take into consideration before I hire this candidate?
  • Tell me about a time when the candidate had a conflict with a co-worker. How did the situation unfold?
  • What kind of schedule did the candidate keep? Did co-workers ever have trouble working with the candidate because of schedule issues? Tell me about a time when this was a problem.
  • Tell me about a time when the candidate surprised you. What were the circumstances? What did the candidate do?
  • If you were to hire the candidate again, what role do you think would be ideal? What role would not be a good fit, and why?
  • We all get frustrated with each other from time to time. Tell me about a time you were really frustrated with the candidate.
  • In which situations does the candidate really shine? Tell me about an example.
  • What else you’d like me to know about this individual?

It can be challenging to reach references by phone. Often when you do make contact with references, they can be hesitant to say anything that could be negatively construed or bring legal ramifications. But it is important to have a plan when calling, so that when you do make contact, you can collect useful information that supports strong hiring decisions

LinkedIn Research

If you take a look at a candidate’s LinkedIn page, you might be able to verify information found on the candidate’s resume. Furthermore, if you have mutual LinkedIn connections, those connections might be able to give you another perspective on the candidate’s professional background. But be cautious when using social media to review an applicant; you cannot discriminate against a candidate because of disability, age, gender, family, religion, sexual orientation, military history, employment status, or other protected categories.

Bottom line: any information that falls into a protected category cannot be used as a determining factor in offering a job to a candidate.

The Perfect Fit

There is no way to know 100% that a particular candidate is the best fit for a position or organization. But no matter how you check a candidate’s references, thoroughly evaluate the perspectives given to you from others and cross-reference that with your team’s professional views on the candidate. After analysis, if you feel like the candidate is going to be a good fit for the position and your organization as a whole, then you have utilized the information acquired during the reference check process to make a valuable decision and ideally a successful return on your investment.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

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How to Assess Your Small Business’s Pre-Employment Screening Maturity

A turnkey, effective pre-employment screening process is critical for today’s small business. We rely on pre-employment screening efforts to alert us of red flags with a candidate, verify the accuracy of one’s employment records, ensure the safety of existing employees, and explore whether one may thrive despite the demands of a position. And don’t forget the importance of saving time for busy HR Directors by reducing the chance of expensive turnover later.

There is a wide spectrum onto which companies may fall when it comes to pre-employment screening process maturity. Identify your small business’s place on this Bell curve as a first step toward improving your new hire screening, background checking, and reference checking methods.

Your Pre-Employment Screening Process Maturity Level

It’s time to get real. How do your company’s resources impact your placement on the maturity curve? Into which category does your company fall on the image below?

Pre-Employment Screening Process Maturity Curve


Companies lagging behind in this phase are resistant to technology in most areas of talent management. They are focused on manual activities such as using hard copy paper employment applications, collecting printed resumes at job fairs, and promoting the ability to apply in person (despite the absence of an on-site kiosk for electronic submission of applications). Businesses in this bucket may not even be doing background checks or reference checks on candidates who have received a conditional offer of employment. If the company has started to grow more quickly recently, putting these methods in place can be further delayed if nepotism is present and new hires frequently come from existing employee referrals.  Additionally, it is unlikely that the standard employment application offers the opportunity to incorporate well-planned screening questions that flesh out whether candidates meet at least the basic qualifications for a position. Lastly, you can assume that any web presence on behalf of human resources is completely managed by the IT department.


Companies in this bucket are often plagued by a lack of staff bandwidth (often an HR department of one trying to support too many employees) and poor buy-in from upper management. They launch isolated efforts to supplement the pre-employment screening process, but do not execute a universal, organization-wide strategy. For example, they utilize employee assessments for only some positions; use inconsistent techniques for reference checking and/or fail to train all hiring managers to follow the same protocol; inconsistently use social media to screen applicants (potentially a big liability); job-specific screening questions are underutilized and ultimately depend on the attentiveness of the hiring manager involved; and there is no automated way to group job candidates based on whether they satisfied basic qualifications. Additionally, these companies may still be collecting background check-related information (such as previous residences and Social Security number) on the employment application (without a compelling industry-related reason) because it is easier for them…neglecting the fact that it can disengage applicants and raise a red flag when the solicitation of that information is not connected with a conditional offer of employment.

Organizing & Conforming

Companies in this stage have the right structure in place for optimizing the pre-employment screening process – including an applicant tracking system and a means to collect employment references and electronic employment applications from applicants. While the integration of technology has advanced these companies into the “late majority” part of the cycle, activities such as reference checking are likely still handled inconsistently and may eat up the HR staff’s time. Though they probably have a go-to background checking vendor in place, they still may be collecting disclosures to run these checks in a cumbersome way (i.e. emailing candidates later in the process with a separate request form and then not having an automatic way for results for the check to flow back into an applicant tracking system). Upper management supports HR initiatives as it recognizes the need to put sound practices in place as the company grows, but the pace of growth is still outpacing the ability to get the right HR resources in place quickly enough. The HR department has a lot on its plate and needs to become even more efficient and strategic as pre-employment screening efforts have covered the tactical bases like background checking and reference checking, but still haven’t touched screening question development on a consistent basis.

Embracing & Engaging

For these companies, a strategic process is in place so that consistent screening techniques are used for every position in the organization and thoughtful job evaluation is used to create relevant and results-oriented job-specific screening questions. The right applicant tracking software technology is in place to allow human resource administrators the ability to quickly and easily view applicants that meet basic qualifications based on answers to questions…and those applicants that score particularly well are highlighted, accordingly. Success in hiring leads to further engagement from hiring managers to help develop job questions, respond about candidates quickly and utilize pre-employment testing tools. This partnership with hiring managers leads to opportunities to continuously re-evaluate and repeat success in the future.

Performance & Scaling

Scalability is of central concern for companies in this stage. They seek to further optimize their pre-screening efforts and are intimately attune with promoting a positive employment brand to both applicants and current employees. By regularly tracking key performance indicators such as time to hire and cost per hire, among others, HR personnel have already proven the business case for using technology to their CFO and company ownership. Many of these companies have undergone a significant spike in hiring recently, and have sought additional ways to leverage technology to avoid taking on more staff unnecessarily. Examples include bi-directional integration with background checking, behavioral and cognitive employee assessment tools and automated reference checking software in which the applicant is especially engaged to impact the responsiveness of his/her references. The HR department, whether comprised of one person or many individuals at this near-mastery level, is very agile, uses practical, easy-to-learn HR technology software and likely has enviable statistics when it comes to number of offers extended to accepted and turnover.

Talent Leader

These companies are completely passionate about attracting and hiring top talent…having employment brand ambassadors from entry-level employees all the way up to the CEO. The return on investment for pre-employment screening efforts has repeatedly been proven as well as scaled as the business expands (and expansion for small business can often mean a pretty drastic percentage increase in growth)…thanks in part to savvy reporting tools available in hiring software such as applicant tracking systems and online reference checking software. Other companies will look to this organization to mimic its hiring techniques and try to steal talent…but the latter attempt will often fail as the leading company has done a great job of pre-screening talent and engaging candidates and employees in the process. The talent leader will have little trouble fielding applicants for most job postings due to its reputation as a choice employer.

Does your business fall into your preferred category when it comes pre-employment screening maturity? What resources can help you move ahead on the pre-employment screening process maturity curve? To find out, visit our ExactHire resources section or contact us today.

SMB Pre-Employment Screening Guide Ebook

Image credit: Curve of Droplets by Andreas. (contact)

Insurance for Your Hiring Process

Insurance companies have become an advertising staple across all media platforms. Whether you’re looking for a “good neighbor” (State Farm), enjoy the exploits of Flo (Progressive) or follow the gecko (Geico) — many of these companies have almost become part of pop culture with their clever and catchy ads.

Everyone thinks about insuring traditional things — your health, your home, your life, etc. But what about insuring your company’s hiring efforts? While there isn’t technically an insurance policy you can purchase for this, there are services and strategies you can put in place to mitigate your risk. What is insurance, after all? A way to mitigate risk.

Let’s look at some things below that can help “insure” better hiring…

Hiring Process Insurance for Your Business

  • Applicant Recordkeeping – It’s important to be able to see if an applicant has applied for openings with your organization previously. If he/she did, what did others think of the candidate? Why was that applicant not hired before? Having tools, such as an applicant tracking system, in place to readily see this type of history is helpful.
  • Background Checks – While most larger organizations do this as a standard part of their hiring process, many smaller companies don’t. Not only can this type of information prevent a bad hire, but not performing due diligence creates considerable risk for a company. Let’s say your new hire assaults/harasses someone or injures someone while driving a company vehicle under the influence of alcohol. If a criminal background check would have exposed prior tendencies like these and you didn’t bother to run that check, your company’s liability has the potential to increase significantly.
  • Reference Checks – For many hiring managers and recruiters, reference checks have become a very painful (and often unproductive) part of the hiring process. Many prior employers will only share basic information like dates of employment or job title — no meaningful information. Usually, this is a reaction to perceived liability for poor references that may lead to a former employee not being hired. However, there are now tools available to automate the reference checking process for organizations and allow references to be much more anonymous with feedback. Don’t skip this valuable opportunity for information — prior performance is one of the better indicators of future performance.
  • Employee Assessments – There are lots of tools in the market that call themselves assessments. If you’ve been exposed to some of the poorer pre-employment testing options out there, they can appear to have little value. However, using tools that are well-validated and allow you to profile your current good performers is an excellent way to “look under the hood” to better understand someone’s key traits and characteristics before hiring them. Otherwise, you may not see certain aspects of a person until well after he or she has started working for you.

Just like insurance can’t protect you and your assets from all risks, the items listed above can’t protect you completely from making hiring mistakes. On the other hand, using a consistent process and taking advantage of technology to help automate that process where possible is a great way to dramatically reduce your hiring risk.

To learn more about ExactHire’s many different hiring software solutions, please visit our resources section or contact us today.

Image credit: Insurance umbrella by liftarn

Make Hiring More Predictable

We recently hired another staff member, and as we wound down the process, one of the key factors in choosing the person we did was based on the type of work they had done previously and the positive feedback from others who had worked with that person in those prior positions.

This made me stop and think about an old, but mostly true, saying:

“Past performance is the best predictor of future performance.”

As you likely know from prior blogs, I’m a big believer in employee assessments — both in the hiring process and for post-hire development. Assessments (when used properly) are an excellent way to gather very valid and objective data about applicants that you otherwise would not access until after they’re hired. Likewise, the better assessment providers allow you to create benchmarks of common traits among your better performers. In turn, this helps you get a better sense of how well a potential hire matches up to those existing good performers.

At the same time, if you think about the hiring process for most organizations, there’s another component that can significantly improve the likelihood of better hires. That component…the reference check.

Before your mind wanders to the frustration and time spent chasing down references, let me qualify this a bit. I’m talking about reference checks that can actually be quantified and used for ongoing review of your hiring successes and disappointments.

There are solutions available that allow you to not only automate the process of procuring references from employees — they also allow you to gather information from those references in a way that produces more responses, more quickly and with better information.

Targeted Reference Checks

By utilizing this type of approach, you are able to determine the types of specific characteristics for which you want feedback from references. Instead of simply confirming employment dates and job titles, you can now allow references to rate a given applicant on these specific things that you know from experience are important for your particular position. Since the process is anonymous for the references, they consistently provide more truthful responses and more relevant information.
Any applicant can put down 3 references on an application — especially if you don’t quantify what type of references you require. With this automated alternative, however, you may dictate whether you want former bosses, former peers, former direct reports, current peers, etc.

My point here isn’t to lobby for reference checks over assessments. Ideally, you can use both. Instead, this is simply an option that many folks don’t know exists. By utilizing it properly, you have the opportunity to make hiring decisions more predictable and continue to bring a larger number of good performers into your organization. After all, isn’t this the primary objective of any talent acquisition process?

To learn more about how employee assessment and reference check options available through ExactHire can make hiring more predictable for your organization, please contact us today.

Image credit: Arrows showing up (Blender) by FutUndBeidl (contact)

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