One of the core stages of hiring at Rapleaf is reference checking. Depending on the person we are hiring, we require 10-20 references (and we wouldn’t give an offer to someone without at least talking to 8 references). For some people, this might seem a bit extreme but we think it would be crazy to do otherwise.
Reference checking is important for a few reasons. First, it gives you a general sense of the candidate. What is her personality? How does she act in certain stressful situations? Etc. I like to ask a judgment question. Like what would the candidate do in a certain situation? Why?
Second, it gives you a window on how best to manage the candidate if you do hire her. I like to ask how one could get the most out of a candidate and what work environment they strive under most.
Third, the list of references themselves tell you something about the person. Does she give you her current boss (if so, she’s more likely to leave her current job and she has a very open relationship with her boss)? How far back does she reach for her references? Is there a good mix of references.
Fourth — look for how quickly the references get back to you .. And how quickly they call you back. Presumably the candidate is going to first contact the reference and let them know you will be calling … so this is a good indicator of how organized the candidate is. And it is a great indicator of how passionately people feel about a candidate. (I once did a reference check on a candidate who listed a very well-known CEO as a reference. The CEO called me back with one hour — he obviously really liked the candidate.) And I like to later understand how the candidate prepped the reference.
Fifth is to look for consistency. We were reference checking one candidate and his references all consistently said he was amazing but stubborn. This gave us better insights into the questions we asked him in the final interview.
Sixth — find out how the candidate has changed over time. My personal favorite question is asking how the candidate improved over the time the reference has known him. This usually gives an interesting window into the candidate’s personality.
And seventh — references can often predict a candidate’s future. “Where do you see this person in 5 years?” is a good question.
(and, contrary to popular belief, reference checking is especially important with engineers)