How SMEs can get the most out of their reference checks

reference checks
Telephone reference check form. To be used by employers on potential hires.

Hiring the right talent is important for businesses of all sizes. However, for small and medium-sized businesses, every hire is vital and SMEs need to ensure they’re hiring the right talent that will help grow their businesses in the long run.

When working in smaller teams and businesses, everyone has a critical role to play, there’s no room for those that have to be carried. The cost of hiring and training new employees is high and for smaller businesses, often working to tighter margins, the added expense of rehiring or retraining is one to be avoided.

The role of a reference check

More often than not, reference checks are simply tacked on as the last element of the interview process but there’s value to be earned from gathering intel throughout the process. Not only is a reference check a chance to confirm a candidate’s ability to do the job but it is also a unique opportunity for a business to learn what motivates them and how best to manage them, all in the name of retention once they enter the workplace.

Australia’s workforce is evolving. No longer is it just about the work a candidate has done in the past but increasingly we’re looking for strong interpersonal skills and the potential for them to grow and adapt to change – particularly important for an SME looking to grow.

How to have a successful reference check experience

It’s important to tailor the mix of questions to individual candidates and take care to ask essential questions about their experience, some personal attribute questions to build a picture of their character and technical or capability-specific questions to understand their ability to slot straight into the role.

The best way to kick off a reference check is to start with the basics, or essential questions, that account for a candidate’s previous employment and performance. For example, you should touch on the referee’s working relationship with the candidate:

  • Please detail the nature of your working relationship (i.e. direct boss, etc)
  • What roles do you think they would be suitable for in the future?

It’s then important to touch on personal attribute questions that allow businesses to build a picture of a candidate’s professional personality:

  • Can you please rate and describe their ability to use initiative when problem-solving?
  • Please rate and comment on their ability to learn.

These types of questions are a great opportunity to find out what motivates a candidate and how they might fit into the workplace culture of your company.

Finally, role-specific questions should be included in any successful reference check. These types of questions give businesses insights into a candidate’s professional capabilities in light of the type of role they’re applying for:

  • Please rate and comment on their computer skills and ability to adopt new software.
  • Can you comment on the level of supervision they required? How well did they work autonomously?

Having the perfect balance of these three types of questions will ensure SMEs have a well-rounded reference to help them make informed hiring decisions.

How technology can help

While the role of the reference check has continued to grow, technology has entered the process to make it easier for growing businesses to hire the right talent. There are now technologies available to automate the process – ensuring that SMEs are able to confidently hire but also do so effectively so as to not miss out on the best talent.

Across industries, we’re facing a global skills shortage and investing in technology during the recruitment process means that growing businesses will be able to make good hiring decisions faster than ever before.

Lee Martin Seymour, CEO and Co-Founder, Xref