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Reference Checking – How Can the NFP Sector Get It Right?

10 October 2016 at 9:44 am
Mike Brett
Having a robust, reliable and informative reference checking process in place, is critical for not- for-profit organisations to find the best people, writes Mike Brett, NFP specialist at Xref.

Mike Brett | 10 October 2016 at 9:44 am


Reference Checking – How Can the NFP Sector Get It Right?
10 October 2016 at 9:44 am

Having a robust, reliable and informative reference checking process in place, is critical for not- for-profit organisations to find the best people, writes Mike Brett, NFP specialist at Xref.

It’s almost accepted that applicants vying for their dream job will exaggerate the details they provide on their resume or during interviews – to make their qualifications more impressive, their experience more relevant, or the length of time they’ve spent in previous roles more notable.

What’s more worrying than these exaggerations – or “white lies” – is the number of applicants that go so far as providing false or inappropriate referee details. Understandably, candidates are far more likely to suggest someone they believe will provide positive feedback, but offering up your mum or housemate is a bit of a stretch for even the most lenient employer.

For the NFP sector, the risk that comes with potentially fraudulent candidate references is heightened. Most NFP organisations are dealing with hugely sensitive issues and it’s absolutely critical that they’re bringing trustworthy, reputable people into the workplace.

But beyond ensuring that referee’s offers are genuine, relevant and appropriate, NFPs can also greatly improve the value of the information they gather during the reference checking process, to ensure they are learning enough about a candidate to validate their suitability for the role.

There are four things I believe every NFP should do, to ensure they are conducting reference checks that are both defendable and valuable:

  1. Filter out fraudsters

A consistent, thorough and reliable reference checking process is the dream. Unfortunately, for many organisations it’s far from a reality, as they often leave it to the most junior or time-constrained HR staff.

These weaknesses are exactly what candidates brave enough to provide false reference details thrive on. Ruling them out is the first step to ensuring you have done the due diligence required to ensure you are bringing appropriate staff into the organisation.

  1. Ditch the phone

Phone-based reference checking is slow, time consuming and fraught with the risk of human error. Taking references by phone relies on the availability of referees and their willingness to provide the time and consideration required to provide useful feedback. The way in which questions are asked will also inevitably vary between recruiters, resulting in a lack of comparable data across candidates.

Taking the process online and allowing referees to provide their feedback at a time that suits them ensures nothing is taken out of context and no one is inconvenienced.

  1. Make it quick

NFP budgets are tight and under scrutiny, so time spent trying to contact and chase referees, equals money wasted. Typically, the process of requesting, chasing, recording and analysing reference checks can take as long as two weeks from start to finish.

Aside from the obvious time wasted, those two weeks could be the difference between hiring or losing the best candidate for the role. Introducing a robust but efficient process will give organisations the best chance of making great hires more quickly.

  1. Make your reference checking stand up to scrutiny

It’s understandable that there’s a watchful eye on the recruitment practices of the NFP industry, but auditing can become somewhat of a worry for organisations that are ill-prepared. Adopting a systematic and consistent approach to gathering reference details ensures that, when the auditors come knocking, there are clear and comparable reports to reference, and a validated set of background data on each employee.

In a sector centred on providing support and advice around delicate, emotive and challenging issues, it is critical that only the best, most trustworthy people, with the appropriate experience and training, are employed. Ensuring you have a robust, reliable and informative reference checking process in place, is critical to successfully identifying them.

About the author: Mike Brett is a NFP specialist, at Xref, a Sydney-based tech startup which provides online referencing solutions for companies, big and small, globally. He has a recruitment background spanning more than six years and is a technology advocate. He has a passion for increasing the efficiency of HR processes, particularly within the not-for-profit sector.

Mike Brett  |  @ProBonoNews

NFP specialist at Xref

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  • Cindy O'Dea says:

    Hi Mike, Some good points there, thanks. I agree that getting referees to complete info online is good but I also think one of the difficulties is asking the referees the right questions. There is quite a skill to getting the answers required and not just a yes or no answer. A template is a useful starting point and questions can be added or amended for different positions. Cindy

    • Mike Brett says:

      Cindy, I agree that it is sometimes important to speak to referees to ask those probing questions at the crucial stage of the hiring process, so with Xref the final question any referee responds to is “when suits you for a potential follow up call from the prospective employer?” Also, by customising questions and templates in Xref and ensuring they are open ended often produces greater levels of content when compared to phone based methods. Mike

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