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NSFW HR: "But Kris, That's the Way We've Always Done It!"...

This is a re-run spurred by recent conversations about empty calorie background checks.  Ask these questions for real background info - if you dare...

Here's a blast from my past.  Topic: Lame reference checks. Dateline: Birmingham.

Me: "Hey gang, I know you dig into references, but candidly, we've never rejected anyone based on information we've uncovered through those reference checks.  So I think we need to discontinue doing that and either a) use a commodity vendor who can do the basics so we say we have done it, or b) get someone who really specializes in getting us quality info so we get better data."

Team: <paraphrased>.  "That's bull****, Kris.  Doing those is core to our team and part of our cultural check.  It's who we are."

Me: "When's the last time you rejected someone based off of your calls?" 

Them: <crickets>

Me: "If you want to keep it, we need to institutionalize our ability and willingness to go after negative information in reference checks.  For example, I'd start with a pretty simple question:  "What type of environment would you never put this person into and why?  What type of manager would you never put this person working with and why?"

Them: <crickets>

This was a great team.  But they were so caught up in how they had always done it that they were emotional about giving up their process.  Plus, they didn't want the confrontation needed to add value.

Good team.  But in this case, it was NSFW HR.  No tough questions, no confrontation and valuing activity over smart activity that yields results. We're all better than that, including this team of mine in the past.

Comments

shawn

we are rejecting a candidate today due to what their references told us. bummer to get all the way to the end and not make an offer but it will be good for the long run.

Pete Radloff

References are critical to HR (recruiting too, but we'll use HR to save space)in that they provide some insight on past experience which is widely believed to predict future behavior. SOMETIMES. People change.

The problem with references the way we have always done it, is that we live in the seventh layer of litigious hell. So, companies may ask the hard questions, but references rarely provide the equally hard answers and facts (especially as it relates to poor performers).

We switched to a vendor system called Skill Survey last year, and we're happy with it - which is an understatement. We've received more candid and honest feedback than I've ever seen in a phone call, and it also helps to build a passive candidate system.

I don't work for them, just a satisfied customer. I'm sure there are other similar systems, but I think that this is the future of this part of HR's work. The old way is just too inefficient and legally risky, regardless of how well it worked in the past.

Remember that rotary phones worked in the past too, but you don't see many of those anymore.

MattL

I'm usually on the receiving end of these calls. Out of the 10s of calls I have received, only 1 or 2 have been more than "let me get through this checklist".

Brandon

I've been on the initiating and receiving ends of these calls as well. The process is garbage.

As an employer, I'm unwilling to give any info on an employee besides name, date and title. Very few companies I talk to are willing to give more than that either. Like Kris, we've never changed a decision based on a reference check.

Total Waste of Time.

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Here's a blast from my past. Topic: Lame reference checks. Dateline: Birmingham. Me: Hey gang, I know you dig into references, but candidly, we've never rejected anyone based on information we've uncovered through those reference checks. So I think we...

Joel Kimball

KD, thought provoking as usual. I reflect on "when did we kind of suck and not be aggressive enough in changing our process to actually meet business needs [or s#$% can it]". Why, never.

But I KEEEED! Good caution to even us Type A HR Mega Movers that we need to step back periodically and view our processes with a "third-person" eye (or even a "third person" or "outsider") and ensure we're delivering value.

As I always say, "If we don't, we're just overhead." Good stuff as always!

Rebecca Mazin

Yup, if the references aren't targeted and specific they are useless checklists. Just like performance evaluations, I say do them well or don't do them at all. And yes, when I have used an effective process I have rejected candidates or used information to "sell" someone or identify development targets.

Bill Graham

I don't know why we would give so much credibility to a reference source that we don't know anything about. The quality of information may be good or, just as likely, not.

As another data point in the decision-making process, fine. But by itself, not very useful.

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