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Do Referee Checks Have A Place In Modern Selection Practices?

Regular readers will be aware that I’m not a big fan of referee checks; the context of this is that they have in comparison to other selection methodologies have quite low predictive validity – that is their ability to assist in selecting the best candidate from the applicant pool isn’t good. Now, this may lead some, including myself to reflect on their inclusion in selection processes. I do indeed use referee checks, and here is how and why.

I undertake referee checks after I’ve made my decision on who the best person is. I don’t allow referee checks to water down the better selection methodologies such as structured interviews, rather I use it to confirm some points. Firstly I always talk to the referee through their company switchboard, I don’t use the direct dial number that the candidate has provided. And I’ll also confirm the referees position title while I’m talking to the receptionist or switchboard operator. So with this phone call without leveraging anyone’s opinion, I’ve already determined that the referee is real, works for the company, and has the job title either the same or similar (promotions and restructures do happen from time to time) to what the candidate has told me. With referee checks you should be looking for facts as much as you can, so in two minutes I’ve confirmed two important pieces of information, the referee does work at this company and if their title relates to what the applicant told me. So now I’m on the phone with the referee, my questions are generally pretty brief (unless someone on the selection panel has asked a specific (and often unnecessary) question). I ask if they would employ that person again, and I ask if there is any additional information that if they were in my position as a perspective employer, that they would like to know about the applicant. Occasionally I will ask the referee to elaborate on a specific question, one perhaps the applicant wasn’t able to give as detailed information as I would have liked. However this line of questioning is not something I do every time, if I’m referee checking then I already have a firm view on who I’m going to employ. My interest isn’t so much in what the referee has to say, but ensuring that the applicant has been honest in their application.

By Brendan Lys

Operating at the intersection of Human Resources and Data Science, I leverage extensive specialist experience within Human Resources, with the methodologies and approaches of Data Science. This focus on the discovery of actionable insights from data, has been applied to areas such as: remuneration & benefits, workforce planning, recruitment, health & safety, diversity, and training. But what does the application of data science to HR challenges and opportunities actually look like. Within an HR framework the data we work with typically comes directly from our HRMIS, an advantage of using data science methodologies is that we can bring in additional data either held within the organization or from external sources - data which is out of reach from a pure HR analytics approach. Consider for example position descriptions, these contain a wealth of data that we typically ignore as its not in a analysis ready format. A side project I'm working on currently (April 2019) is using text mining on job descriptions to provide insights into which job family the position may fit into. The insights of my work have been enjoyed by organizations across a diversity of sectors including: Government (Australia and New Zealand), ASX and NZX listed companies, utilities, not for profit and higher education.

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