So many of those early lessons are ones that we can use throughout our lives.
WWWWW&H is applied throughout the recruiting process. We apply it when we initially interview candidates and evaluate their fit for a position and company; and we apply it when we’re checking discrete references throughout the search (when possible, so as not to intrude upon a Candidate’s confidentiality); and when taking a deep dive into reference checking as we make or final candidate determinations.
Some suggestions for Companies (the Hiring Manager or BOD team):
I recommend contact with Peers, Direct Reports, Managers, Customers, BODs – everyone who would have a professional experience with the Candidate.
Try to find “discrete references” (those not offered by the candidate), along with “direct references” (those that the Candidate will tee-up for you). Some Companies totally dismiss direct references – I do not agree, because you can still get valuable information from this type of source. You can also get discrete references from them! (“Who else would have a fair assessment of about Jan Smith’s performance? Management style? Customer Orientation? Ability to attract a great team?”)
Although tempting, try not to delegate the entire reference process – even to a trusted advisor like moi. I always urge my Clients to make a few of the calls – so they can hear the reference directly AND ask spontaneous questions that pertain DIRECTLY to managing the Candidate. Members of the Board should talk directly with a CEO candidate’s past Members of the Board, etc.
Be suspicious of 100% positive references. I’ve had a number of situations like this, and I’ve had to actually tell the Reference Source that no one is perfect – I’ve had to shake some human moments out of them. Some people think they’re being helpful by not revealing human moments. Actually, it enhances the profile of a Candidate. And I tell them that.
Be thoughtful about negative references. Ask lots of questions about the circumstances. Look for corroboration. Ask to talk with someone who may have a different view of the situation.
Evaluate the positives against the negatives. Do the positives, good by definition, match your company culture, and the chemistry of the team? Will they make a positive impact on company DNA? Are the negatives manageable? Are they mitigated by the positives? Is it worth talking with the Candidate about the any negative references and allowing a rebuttal? I have done this many times, often with good results. Sometimes, negative references may be a misunderstanding of the circumstances.
Always consider your sources. Through what type of lens do they view the Candidate?
And always protect the confidentiality of your sources. A golden rule.