Employee references are an important part of the hiring process. They give you the opportunity to learn more about a candidate. You get to hear about how others perceive them while verifying the information they provided in their resume and during the interview.

However, too many companies treat employee references as more of a formality than hiring tool. While references can be difficult – candidates choose the people; many companies will not provide references – they are still a valuable resource.

One of the key problems is that many people are not completely truthful. Therefore, it’s important to understand how to read between the lines when calling references. Here is how you do it:

1. Listen carefully

It’s common for references to try to tell you something without actually saying it. So listen carefully to what they are actually trying to tell you, not what they are saying.

2. Tone of voice

The tone of voice the reference uses can say a lot about how they feel about the candidate. Tone can often tell you whether or not the reference was a fan of the candidate. Lack of excitement or a generally negative tone can say a lot about a candidate. On the other hand, if a reference is upbeat and positive, it’s a good sign.

3. Employee references talking in theoretical terms

Some employee references will talk in theoretical terms. They will say things like, “If Steve put in more time and effort, he could be a top talent,” or “Joe could be a huge asset if he found the right role.” When you hear these types of statements, often the reference is trying to tell you to be cautious and ensure they are right for the role.

4. Holes and inconsistencies

One of the most important things to look for is inconsistencies. Be on the lookout for anything that is inconsistent with what the reference and the candidate say in terms of duties, skills, and experience. If there are significant differences, you should consider asking the candidate about them before you move forward.

5. Fake employee references

A final thing to be conscious of is fake references. This has been known to happen from time to time. If a reference seems to be “off” or seems to know little about the candidate’s job or responsibilities, you may want to dig into the reference more or request another reference.

Get more HR recruiting and hiring tips by reading:

Tips from HR: 4 Critical Recruitment Process Steps

4 Job Posting Strategies to Attract Top Candidates

5 Ways Employers Screen Out the Best Candidate

Felicia Smith

Felicia is the manager of human capital solutions at AugmentHR. With over six years of recruitment experience coupled with multi-faceted HR roles, Felicia is an expert in matching people with the right role and environment. She has worked in many different industries, including investment banking, HR consulting firms, medical, and commercial. Understanding people is one of her strengths, and she has recruited at every level, from directors, project managers, and engineers to operators and general labourers. Her ability to network and develop relationships has been a key tool to her success. With approximately two years of experience managing people and creating a positive work environment, Felicia’s diverse skill set makes her a well-rounded individual. Her business education and background help her identify different business needs and human capital solutions.

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