The Heightened Significance of Well-Conducted Referencing for NFP Recruitment

Posted on 15 July 2017 by John Dawson in Human Resources

Let’s talk about reference checking - it’s a thorn in every HR professionals’ side, the bane of their working existence, the black cloud that hovers over the recruitment process...but it’s still recognized as a critical pre-employment step. The issue is that, although we know it must be done, the time the traditional approach takes, distraction it causes and frustration it ensues means it’s often left to the most junior person on the team or simply dumped at the bottom of the priority list and conducted without the consideration it’s due.

So let’s take a step back, what’s the outcome we’re actually looking for when we set out on an reference checking endeavour? Ultimately, we want to determine a candidate’s suitability for a role based on their performance in previous, similar positions, as determined by a former colleague who they, ideally, reported into.

For many organizations it’s as simple as that, and at the heart of any organization, the key priorities remain the same – ensuring productivity and an optimal service for end users by finding, securing and retaining the best people to be successful.

However, for the Not-For-Profit (NFP) sector the process of determining a candidate’s suitability for a role carries much greater weight. For NFP organizations that operate to support sensitive issues and potentially vulnerable individuals and communities, finding the right people goes far beyond the organization’s commercial gain. They must be able to guarantee that the service delivered is of a consistently high standard, the values of every individual align with those of the organization and that the - often limited - funds spent on personnel are defendable.

But how can any organization guarantee that a recruit will be a success? To be blunt, there really is no guarantee, but there are steps that can be taken to ensure an organization is as well-placed as it can be to make good hiring decisions.

One of those steps is implementing a streamlined and robust reference checking process. After all, a candidate may be able to represent themselves well on paper or during an interview, but it’s the people who have worked with them previously that will be able to validate or question their claims.

The reality is that many HR professionals in the NFP industry aren’t doing reference checking well, because they don’t have the recruitment resources of their corporate counterparts, they are relying on archaic, manual, phone-based methods of collecting feedback, and they have no way of guaranteeing the legitimacy of the referee they’re speaking to.

There are three major risks that come of a lack of focus on this critical process:

1. Candidates will lie to land a role

Although we might like to think those looking to work in the NFP sector would be a reputable bunch, the desire to secure the dream job will often unfortunately outweigh moral values.

These crafty candidates actually pose an immense risk for the organizations speaking to them who, should the worst happen, would have little in the way of an audit trail to defend their hiring decisions, if traditional reference checking processes were used.

2. A lack of standardization leads to compliance breaches

Beyond the issues associated with candidates, the inconsistencies that naturally occur when traditional reference checking methods are used, coupled with a lack of experience driving the process can - often unintentionally - lead to discriminatory questions being asked. These might include a candidate’s age, their marital status, their sexual orientation, or whether they have any children. Unfortunately, given the conversational nature of traditional reference checking approaches, it can be all too easy to go “off script” and slip into these unchartered territories.

The issues of equal opportunity and discrimination are high on the agenda for any modern organization but none more so than the NFPs, who would come under huge scrutiny should a candidate be seen to have been turned away illegally.

3. Valuable resources wasted and great talent lost

With the ease at which candidates can apply for multiple roles, it is rarely the case that an organization will have no competition for the best talent available. So making the recruitment process as straightforward, transparent, fast and efficient as possible, is more critical than ever to ensure you get the best people through the door before they go elsewhere.

Given the constant scrutiny on not for profit spending, money wasted on recruitment processes that are seen to deliver no results due to their inefficiencies, would ring alarm bells for internal leaders and regulators alike.

When time and money is tight, it can be tempting to cut corners to get people through the door. The irony is that when the process is not done properly, it can actually take longer, produce less insight, and put the organization at risk in the long-term.

For a sector in need of efficiency, validity and accuracy, the use of automated, secure solutions – such as Xref – to overcome the risks and downfalls of tired, old business processes will ensure that NFPs not only survive but thrive into the future.


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