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Checking Candidate References

Have you ever hired a management candidate without checking references? With a tight labor market, there may be a tendency to take short cuts to fill gaping holes, even in key management positions. But that can lead to trouble.

Several years ago I interviewed a candidate for a linen plant service manager position in Orlando, Florida. On the application he had listed a four-year degree from Rutgers University along with substantial work related experience. Although the position did not require a degree, my instincts told me to make an easy telephone call to the college's registrar's office to confirm his graduation. I was not surprised when they told me they had no record of him.

Verifying details on a resume or application can tell you a lot about a candidate's ethics and integrity. If they have "fudged" their salary history, dates of employment, and degrees / certifications received, will they be honest with you during the interview process? What will his / her ethics be on the job with you, with employees and with your customers?

Researching the Candidate
It is important to research a candidate and that research can be done through a telephone conversation with their previous supervisor. After you confirm that the timing of your call is convenient, give a full introduction of yourself including your telephone number. Confirm with the reference that your conversation is confidential and will not be shared with the candidate. Answer any questions the reference may ask of you. You will need the references' trust, which will lead to the reference being honest and candid with you.

When researching the candidate, read aloud the responsibilities and accomplishments that were listed on the resume - ask the reference how accurate this information is and listen carefully to their response. Are they responding enthusiastically or are they more reserved and guarded? Ask your candidates reference to describe the candidate's work habits and their dedication to the company. Find out what personal situations, if any, had an impact on the candidate's work or career. Do not delegate the task of researching a candidate to someone not experienced in reference investigation.

Domain knowledge
If you do not have the organizational resources to train new hires, then it is important to understand your candidate's capabilities prior to extending an offer. Often a vendor rep or a previous co-worker can shed some light. Chuck Dugan, an industry veteran and sales manager with the Dober Group, says he and his sales force are typically asked about production managers and engineers. Although he prefers not to comment on someone currently employed with a customer, he can give valuable insight on a person's level of efficiency, communication skills, hands-on management style, and overall intelligence
 
Leadership Qualities
Other areas to explore with a candidate's references are the candidate's management style and the candidate's reputation with superiors, peers and subordinates. Unearthing their key strengths is easy - identifying their shortcomings takes finesse. To learn about shortcomings, rephrase the question to target how a candidate has improved his or her weaknesses over time.

Management and leadership qualities encompass a candidate's ability to set priorities for him or herself and subordinates. Ask references to speak on the candidate's planning skills, decision-making capabilities and how the candidate deals with stress. For a candidate in a management position it is important for a prospective employer to know how successful the candidate was in attracting employees to their department as well as keeping and developing those employees.

Our Close-Knit Industry
We all know how close knit our industry is - which is even more reason to think through who you will contact. If the candidate is currently employed it is important that you do not jeopardize their current employment status. Sometimes it takes an investigative pro to seek out individuals who are unbiased sources, including vendors and co-workers not identified by the candidate. Previous supervisors may be somewhere else within the industry and need to be methodically tracked down. It helps to know whom you are talking with, as well as where they fit within our industry to minimize risk of confidentiality.

Sometimes an apparent failure is a potential winner. If the candidate failed at a previous plant, find out why. It may have been that there was no support from the owner or the home office. They may have been over their head due to a lack of knowledge, not for lack of effort or commitment. Remember, the closer you get to the real story on a candidate the better-informed decision you can make.

Good luck and good hiring!

Craig Lloyd represents LaundryCareers.com, a management search firm specializing in the industrial / institutional laundry industry.  He holds a degree in Industrial Relations from Rider University and has been a Certified Personnel Consultant since 1979.

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Laundry Inks $23.7 Million Military Hospital Contract

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Division Laundry & Cleaners process over 16 million pounds of linens yearly for hospitals and hotels. San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) recently awarded the family-run business a 5-year, $23.7 million contract for laundry services.