Don't Skip References When Hiring Quickly

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A new approach to hiring is gaining a lot of attention. Companies are using what many call "fast-track" hiring to staff up in far less time than it took in the past. In their haste, some may be skipping critical steps.

One example of fast-track hiring was a national quick-service restaurant chain that was so eager to beef up its staff in a hurry that it announced plans to hire 4,000 workers in just one day. With low unemployment, employers worry that traditional hiring approaches may cause delays that result in prime candidates accepting jobs with more nimble competitors.

As an employer, I understand the frustration involved in filling a position, especially when the work is piling up. It takes time to announce an opening, collect applications and resumes, winnow those down to a handful, conduct interviews, and extend an offer. Skipping steps and getting on the so-called fast track can carve weeks out of that process.

Unfortunately, something else also gets slashed when companies take a speedier approach to hiring. They’ll forego some of the traditional due diligence that’s part of vetting a prospective employee. They may skip a thorough background check and settle for a faster, more cursory glance at an applicant’s background. Many have decided that checking references takes far too long and generates far too little useful insight.

I understand that, too. Companies that worry about potential litigation for providing a bad reference often either ignore requests or respond by verifying employment dates and sharing nothing else. Finding a past employer who is willing to speak frankly is becoming increasingly difficult. However, picking up the phone and calling past employers isn’t the only way to obtain reference information.

Technology has allowed business owners and managers to handle so many functions in less time. The same is true for references. There are companies (ours included) that have developed systems that allow companies to check references in just hours, and, in many cases, gain information that’s more useful than traditional reference-checking generates.

For example, we developed a service called RefLynk that transfers the burden of checking references from the employer to the prospective employee. The hiring company begins the process by determining the competencies and personal characteristics it’s seeking for the position. When ready to extend an offer, the company enters the candidate’s contact information into the system, and RefLynk automatically generates an email or text notification that asks the candidate to provide names and mobile phone numbers (or email addresses) for a specified number and types of references.

The system automatically texts or emails a link to a brief questionnaire designed to evaluate the candidate based on the specified competencies and characteristics. Using a numerical scale, it takes just seconds for the person selected as a reference to reply. As the responses are received, they are aggregated and converted to color-coded graphs that summarize the overall impression of the candidate. The employer can see at a glance whether the reference sources believe that the candidate has the desired attributes for the position.

What makes technology-based approaches such as this so valuable is the turnaround time. The first companies to use our system reported that they were receiving results within a few hours. One company shared that they had entered four candidates into the system at about 5:00 p.m., and three hours later, 83 percent of the reference sources had already responded with completed surveys. If a reference source doesn’t respond, the system notifies the candidate so he or she can provide an alternate.

Our clients particularly appreciate the fact that technology like this gets them more insightful information with far less work on their part. They don’t have to waste time leaving voice mails that often don’t get returned, and they don’t have to maintain paperwork for each candidate. The responsibility for making sure that candidates have the right number and type of reference falls to the candidates themselves.

The key point is that just because you’re in a hurry to hire, you don’t have to let your guard down and settle for inadequate due diligence. If you take a little time to research and evaluate some of the new options available to employers, you can actually streamline and improve the hiring process as you speed it up. You’ll gain all the advantages of fast-track hiring without having to sacrifice the peace of mind that comes with traditional approaches.

Mike McCarty is CEO of Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions.

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