What Does a Reference Check Do?

Along a wonderful discussion started with this tweet, comes a thought-provoking question:

Reference check is much less of a rational, scientific inquiry, and much more of an emotional and experiential one, with lots of biases.

There are two important questions here —

First, is reference check used as a mechanism to address the flaws in our hiring assessment and probation evaluation?

When we have robust hiring assessment and probation evaluation, our hiring decision mostly relies on it. And a reference check probably only serves as an alternative perspective that doesn’t affect the hiring decision.

When our hiring assessment and probation evaluation is deeply flawed and we can’t improve it, then reference check might become one of few last resorts to fix.

But as mentioned at the beginning, reference check carries a lot of biases. So if we want to use reference check as part of the rational, scientific inquiry, we’ll have to effectively and efficiently address those biases, which most orgs rarely do.

A second important question is: to what extent those biases are addressed in that inquiry? How many false positives and false negatives are there in the inquiry? How do they impact the eventual outcome?

A candidate could be a healthy or toxic team member in the original team. A reference can be willing (supportive) or unwilling (disapproving) witness.

False positives and false negatives as results of reference check.

Is there anything that a well-done reference check does while a good hiring assessment and probation evaluation can’t do?

My answer is a tentative yes.

Again —

Reference check is much less of a rational, scientific inquiry, and much more of an emotional and experiential one, with lots of biases.

Let’s forget about the hiring context for a while, and just think about being human.

When we want to get to know a person, what do we do?

We want to talk to that person. And we want to talk to the people around that person.

We want to know that person’s perspectives of oneself and we also want to know the perspectives of people in that person’s social circles.

We want to know that person not only as an individual, but also as a member of a community.

When we become friend with or we’re in love with someone, we don’t just want to know them as an individual alone, we also want to know them as a family member, friend, professional, pet lover, foodie, and activist.

Hiring a person shouldn’t be reduced to mere exchange of value, evaluated purely based on cost and benefit.

Hiring a person is just as humane as being human. And that’s exactly why culture is a big thing in almost any organization.

Hiring a person is a humane experience. Welcoming a person to a new team is a humane experience. Having a person in a team is a humane experience.

Hiring is not measured only by rational, scientific assessment criteria, because being human is not measured only by rational, scientific assessment criteria.

A leader of a team isn’t just responsible for the performance of a team member based on a set of metrics. A leader is also responsible for taking care of the team member.

A colleague of a team isn’t just responsible for getting things done based on a set of metrics. A colleague is also responsible for taking care of each other.

If we can’t have enough humanity in the hiring assessment and probation evaluation, then maybe we could at least try to respect and honour humanity through reference check, not only with good intentions, but also with a keen check on our biases.

{END}

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: