The war for talent in Australia is at an all-time high with many organisations working aggressively and at lightning speed to secure top candidates.

While it is essential that you are quick off the mark when it comes making decisions in the recruitment process, the speed at which you make these decisions just may come back to bite you if you have not done your research.

We spent time with Executive Search expert, David Reddin, to understand the ‘secret recipe’ when it comes to successfully hiring in this competitive climate.

“The recruitment process is made up of specific actions or steps, each providing important tests and measures to ensure that the candidate in question is going to be the right person for the role,” he explains.

“You can think about it a little like cutting up a cake. The largest slice is the interview slice, and rightly so. It’s an extremely important part of the process and probably the one that takes up the majority of the time, probably about 70% of the overall process.

“Other slices of the recruitment cake, while smaller, are also important. These are made up activities such as psych testing or other skill appropriate testing. For most, this slice is around 15% of the overall recruitment activities.

“The other 15% slice of the cake or perhaps, the icing on the top, is almost always the process of reference checking. It’s that last part that takes place once you think you know you have the person for the role. For me, this is the most critical period, but it is so often glazed over as organisations rush to secure a candidate before they take up another offer,” David says.

David believes that it is the reference checking process that can save organisations from making major mistakes. These mistakes  can be extremely costly and time-consuming down the track if the wrong person is placed inside an organisation.

“If after interviewing a candidate you form a strong opinion that this is the person for your role, don’t push aside or simply gloss over the reference checking layer of the recruitment cake. I’ve always maintained that just about anyone can be on their ‘best behaviour’ for an interview or two, especially as most organisations allocate only an hour to each meeting. Research shows candidates can be on their best behaviour for an hour! Reference checking really should be more than a tick the box exercise,” he says.

David’s advice for ensuring a successful reference check is to look closely at the candidates resume and gather data or patterns on their role moves and understand how their referee fits into their overall work history.

“While technically we can only check the supplied references, there is no harm in asking for contacts from former roles or organisations. If you are told no, you must ask why, then dig a little deeper,” David says.

When speaking with referees David believes you must treat it like another part of the interview process. Ensure that you understand the context in which the referee and candidate worked together, and above all else, ensure you speak to a number of referees to form a full picture of the candidate. If the feedback is consistent, then you are on the right track. If not, then don’t discount the small warning signs, dig deeper until the story unfolds.

David concedes that most candidates are upfront, honest and have the best of intentions when applying for roles. However, there can be the odd occasion where the wool can be pulled over your eyes.

“It is rare, but it can happen. Disciplined reference checking is the best way to ensure you catch out this small percentage of dishonest candidates. If reactions aren’t consistent, too few, or something just doesn’t add up, don’t dismiss the warning signs, and hope for the best,” he says.

Helpful reference checking conversation starters

When asked about the types of questions that are helpful to secure robust references, David has several suggested starting points and areas that could be covered.

  • Subjective questions such as, ‘how bright’ do you think the candidate is, can start interesting conversations
  • Quiz referees on the candidate’s problem-solving skills
  • Ask what they believe the candidate grapples with – what causes them stress
  • Ask the referee why they believe the candidate left the role
  • Discuss whether they would re-hire the candidate if they have the opportunity
  • Ask the referee if there is ‘anything else I should know.’ This often opens the door for an executive summary on the candidate

Most importantly David says – listen carefully to the answers, watch for reaction times and circle back on questions until you can tie the whole picture together.

The icing on the cake is always the last of the layers to be placed on a cake, but it’s always the sweetest spot.

Connect with David to start a conversation.