The cost of hastily-made hiring decisions can be substantial in the long-term, with costs of finding replacements for some roles in the hospitality industry topping $5000. The good news? Well, by posing just a few carefully devised questions to a candidate's past managers and co-workers, you can usually gauge suitability and fit with great accuracy.
Granted, you probably never imagined that a career in the hospitality industry would require expertise in interrogation methods. But with turnover an ever-present challenge in the field and service quality now playing a pivotal role in determining market position, knowing how to approach your candidates' references -- and what to ask them -- has never been more important.
Good Hiring Decisions Are Now More Critical Than Ever
Jaded by years of experience dealing with the fallout from seemingly endless cycles of turnover and training, many in the industry have developed a rather fatalistic view of the reference-checking process. Some hiring managers even question whether there is any discernible benefit from checking references, particularly for entry-level positions.
While this view is understandable, the effort you invest in checking references carefully will likely be repaid many times over in the long run. Management consultant Jim Collins makes a compelling case for the importance of conducting thorough candidate research for even entry-level positions in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Other Don't, which is widely regarded as one of the sacred texts of modern leadership theory. Collins exhorts hiring managers to "take the time to make rigorous A+ selections right up front," adding that "every minute devoted to putting the proper person in the proper slot is worth weeks of time later."
Obstacles, Road Blocks, Land Mines, and Dead Ends: How Not to Check References
So, let's say you're already convinced that reference checking is essential and you're chomping at the bit to get started. Well, there are a few more things to consider before diving in. Ironically, even as the vital importance of checking references for hospitality industry positions has intensified in recent years, legal constraints have made the process more difficult.
However, it is still possible to work around some of the constraints that may limit the breadth of your conversations with applicants' references. Use these guidelines to help you overcome common obstacles and decipher both spoken and unspoken cues:
Talk to an Operations Manager
Whenever possible, try to speak with a manager who directly supervised the candidate when you are checking references. Other managers and administrators will be more likely to stick to impartial confirmations of dates of employment when asked for a reference. You'll be able to learn more from the subtext of the conversation with a direct supervisor—listen for pauses, hesitation, or, most ominously, bitterness or hostility.
Personal References? Don't Even Bother
Except in very unique circumstances, you should make a practice of requiring that all references are past employers. If your potential hire has never before been employed, chat with someone who has worked with her in a volunteer or extracurricular capacity. Talking to friends or family members isn't even worth the time it takes to dial the phone; there's almost no chance that you will be able to get objective feedback from them.
Essay Questions, Not Multiple Choice
If you've made a connection with a reference who is willing to talk with you, make the most of your good fortune by asking open-ended questions that call for in-depth answers. Within reason, give the reference ample opportunity to answer as comprehensively as they are willing to. You'll not only get the benefit of more information, but you'll also have more time to interpret the subtext of their remarks.
Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Candidate's References
Now that you know how not to check references, let's focus on what you should ask when you've got your candidate's past employer on the line. HR experts at the National Restaurant Association recommend straightforward questions first in order to establish rapport, then moving on to more substantive, open-ended topics.
1. Verify the candidate's dates of employment, title, and role.
2. Is the candidate eligible for rehire? Why or why not? What was his reason for leaving?
3. Determine the candidate's advancement in the company; did she receive any promotions or demotions, or did she remain in the same role throughout her tenure?
4. What was the candidate's beginning and ending salary? How often did the candidate receive salary increases?
5. What kind of duties and responsibilities were assigned to the candidate? Did he complete them satisfactorily?
Did he go above and beyond what was required of him without being asked?
6.What were the candidate's strengths as an employee? Would you describe her as a hard worker?
7. Ask the reference to evaluate the employee's performance the tasks likely to be assigned in the new position.
8. Was the employee punctual? Were there any issues with tardiness or absenteeism?
9. Did the employee get along well with her peers? With managers? With customers?
10. Is there anything else I should take into consideration before I hire this candidate?
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Related Employer/Recruitment Career Articles:
• The Do's and Don'ts of Reference Checks
• How to Hire Great Employees (Not Great Applicants)
• Unauthorized Employee Recommendations, References on Social Media May Put Employers at Risk