Employers: Four Mistakes Made On References by Mark Goldman, CPA

Getting references on a potential hire is an important part of the selection process, but there are several traps that it is easy to fall into during this phase.  I outline a few below in hopes of making your next hiring process that much better.

  1. Believing that someone has no available work references. Everyone has available work references if you ask enough questions. Granted, it may not be the specific reference you want, i.e. the last supervisor, but there is always a reference somewhere.  Whether it is a former supervisor prior to the current one, someone that left the company, another manager or internal customer, a peer level manager, or someone with an external relationship (such as an auditor), there is always someone that can be contacted for reference.
  2. Believing 100% of what a reference says – good or bad References are important sources of feedback on the potential hire, but you have to remember that they are never non-biased. The reference can be colored by many factors, such as how hard it was to find a replacement or even just how the individual is feeling that day.  The information you receive is important, but it should always be taken in context.
  3. Discarding a candidate due to 1 bad reference. Most of us have one person somewhere that would not give us a glowing reference if you look hard enough. In my own career, I’ve had six jobs.  Five would give you a glowing positive reference, and one would say I was fired.  Does that make for a bad hire?  Likely not, but obviously I’m biased J. In all seriousness though, one bad or neutral reference when coupled with several good references shouldn’t be the final deciding factor.  As with #2 above, take it in context.
  4. Not asking for more than ‘name, rank, and serial number.’ We occasionally encounter people that are under the impression that it is somehow illegal to ask for performance information. It may be against company policy for a former employer to give you that information, but it is not illegal for you to ask.  In general, if the reference liked the person and they did a decent job overall then the reference will tell you that.  References use the ‘against our policy’ line more frequently when the performance was less than stellar.  A good rule of thumb is that if the applicant did a good job, someone somewhere will be willing to tell you.

The next time you go to check references on a potential new hire, keep these items in mind and you will have information that is much more useful to you overall.

I wish you luck in your search.

Mark Goldman, CPA

Mark sketch blue background (3)

Mark Goldman is the founder of MGR Accounting Recruiters, a San Antonio based recruiting company whose primary business is the placement of accounting professionals in both permanent and contract positions.

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