Should you discount a leading candidate over a poor reference check?

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poorrefcheck | Teamrecruit
You’ve found that diamond in the rough candidate that shone in their interview and ticked every box in terms of experience and qualifications, and you’re almost ready to offer them the job.
There’s only one thing you need before you can seal the deal—a good rap from their referee.
But what happens if a referee provides a less than glowing reference? Should you go straight to the next best candidate, or should you think twice before discounting them?
Let’s delve a little deeper into the topic to help you work through your options.

The role of reference checks in dealerships

Reference checks (or referee reports) have long been an important part of the recruitment process in almost every industry.
They are typically used to substantiate a candidate’s claims about their skills, experience, and performance, they’re also great for gaining an independent perspective about a candidate’s work ethic or how well they operate in a team.
Reference checks are generally conducted with a previous manager, supervisor, or other individual with direct knowledge of the candidate’s history. Many dealerships will only conduct reference checks for the top performing candidate as the final tick before offering them the position, while others might use these to differentiate strong-performing candidates.

Possible reasons behind a poor reference check

When a candidate performs well in an interview and has convinced you that they’re the best person for the job, it might come as a surprise when a referee doesn’t back up their claims. However, before you take a referee’s word as gospel, it’s important to consider if there might be any underlying factors that could be influencing their reference.
Some reasons why a referee might provide a poor reference could include:
  • You caught them off guard – In many cases, candidates don’t want to let their current manager or supervisor know that they’re looking for a new job until they’re very confident that they’ll be offered the position. A referee that’s received a call seemingly out of the blue or when they don’t have the time to provide a proper assessment could result in a substandard reference.

  • They don’t want to lose a crucial team member – While you would hope that most referees would support a worker’s desire to move in a different direction, some may not always act with the worker’s best interests in mind. If the dealership is in the middle of a busy period, struggling with workforce issues, or simply can’t afford to lose a key team member, there is a possibility they could provide a poor reference to prevent them from leaving.

  • Things ended on bad terms – Many candidates start looking for new opportunities because they’re dissatisfied with their current employer. If issues were aired between either party which went unresolved, there’s a chance the referee may allow personal issues to get in the way of providing a truthful account of their performance.

  • The employee wasn’t performing at the required standard – There’s also the possibility that the candidate’s performance was genuinely less than satisfactory.

Your options if you receive a mediocre reference check

 At this late stage in the recruitment process, you may not want to automatically write off the top performing candidate based entirely on a reference check. In most cases, it’s best to conduct some more research to validate whether the referee’s claims stack up.

Some ways you can do this include:

  • Speak to the candidate – Contact the candidate, make them aware of the concerns that arose from the reference check, and allow them the opportunity to respond. This allows you to get both sides of the story in relation to any issues or disagreements so you can make a more balanced judgement.
  • Ask for another referee – You can always ask for the contact details of another referee from a previous position or even a previous employer. This will allow you to hear another unbiased perspective about the individual’s performance.
  • Put the candidate to the test – If a referee claims a candidate is incompetent in a particular area, why not put them to the test? If they’re applying for a position as a Diesel Technician, get them in front of a truck, give them a hypothetical problem, and ask them to show you how they’d diagnose and fix the issue.
While reference checks are an important element of the recruitment process, they’re not the be-all and end-all.
Often, investing a little extra time to better understand the context of a poor reference check could be the thing that ensures you really do choose the best person for the job.
Teamrecruit is Australia’s most established recruitment agency specialising in truck, earthmoving and agricultural machinery dealerships in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Find out more about Teamrecruit and how we support employers and candidates in the dealership industry.

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