Advanced Candidate Assessment: Back Channel References

January 29, 2015 at 12:33 PM by Rob Stevenson


Today, I want to take some time to dig into the middle of the hiring cycle. Let's assume you've already sourced, qualified, engaged, and brought in your
candidate for the first round of interviews. Easy enough! They performed admirably, so you've scheduled them for round two, and it's time to follow up with their references. You know what's coming. Someone's not going to list a reference unless they know they're going to receive a glowing recommendation, so you'll need to ask some truly hard hitting questions if you want to get a genuine look. Even then, if you can to get a full view of a candidate, you're going to want to do some sleuthing and get some info from someone who might not be expecting your call. Operation: Back Channel Recruiting is now in effect.


Who You Gonna Call?

The most obvious choice for who to call here is mutual contacts. If you've ever worked with someone who had overlap at your candidate's current company, target them even if they're in a different role. They may have some intel on the candidate, or at the very least can point you in the direction of who to contact and maybe even facilitate an introduction. Alternatively, look for shared connections on LinkedIn and message someone to see if they'd be open to a quick chat.


Mutual Contacts with Benefits

The first benefit to reaching out to non-listed references is obvious -- you'll get a far more candid response than the ones listed. Also, if you're able to get in touch with a teammate, you'll get a more accurate look at how your candidate tows the line, works in a team, and what they're like to have in the office daily. Lastly, this candid reference may provide valuable areas for you to push on when you bring your candidate in for interviews. A great way method of candidates assessment that will give you sense of their strengths and personal development is to bring up areas where they're soft and ask them how they plan to close the gap.


What to Ask

There's a handful of obvious questions to ask references, so I'll dig a little deeper and give you the two that we've found to be most illuminating. 

"On a scale of 1-10, how much would you like to work with this person again?"

With this one, you're basically leading references down a path. The path leads to the follow up question "Why not a 10?". Even with listed references, this follow up shows people they've left room for this candidate's improvement, and they'll have to come up with a reason why they haven't given an all-encompassing glowing review. On a similar note:

"How do I best set this person up for success?"

Here, you may learn some valuable tips for onboarding your candidate and turning them into an engaged employee. More valuably, though, people will subconsciously surface the candidate's shortcomings, and give you some information to ask harder hitting questions in your next interview.

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