The Only Powerful Reference Check Method Gets Even Better


Topgrading created the most powerful method of reference checking and this article adds some important twists to make the process even easier and better.

As you know, weak candidates frequently get away with hyping their accomplishments and strengths and hiding their weaker points and failures, and this leads to costly mis-hires. Low performers create hyped resumes and lie in interviews and know they can get away with it because they know that most companies prohibit their managers from taking reference calls, for fear that a former employee might sue them for saying bad things about them.

So “reference checking “ in the U.S. amounts to two weak approaches: 1) contacting a former employer’s Human Resources department, which will confirm the candidate’s name, title, and dates of employment, but rarely much more, or 2) only contacting references the candidate wants you to talk with. Of course, low performing candidates permit you to only talk with their buddies (who will make up positive things to say about them.)

Fortunately, Topgrading revolutionized reference checking!

Several decades ago I hit on the perfect solution – what we call the Threat of Reference Check (TORC) Technique. Candidates are told from the start:

A final step in hiring is for candidates to arrange calls with their former managers and others.

This “truth serum” has saved companies billions of dollars in costly mis-hires, and it’s free – my gift to you. For more than 3 decades, hundreds of companies have used candidate-arranged reference calls successfully, enjoying these huge benefits:

C Players drop out. Since candidates know from the start that they will have to arrange calls with former bosses, low performers with hyped resumes drop out. They know they can’t get former bosses to talk with you. Good! You didn’t want to interview these candidates anyway.

You interview better candidates. The remaining 80% of candidates are instantly a sharper group, and in interviews they tell the whole truth.

Contacting former bosses is easy. After the Topgrading interviews, interviewers ask the candidate to arrange the calls, and voila, within about a day the candidate emails you the mobile numbers and availability of the people to be called. There is no telephone tag because you call when the references said they were available.

No legal issues … that we have heard of. Topgrading professionals number about 30, with 400+ years of combined experience, and we have not heard of any lawsuit pertaining to any aspect of Topgrading, including candidate-arranged reference calls.

Common Concerns with Topgrading Reference Checking

Occasionally, we hear about concerns with this approach. But fortunately, Topgraders have found solutions.

Concern #1: “We don’t want to threaten our A Player candidates”

Excellent companies attract A Players with a super positive vision, including treasuring and developing their employees, and “threatening” them from the outset seems too negative. TORC seems to say, “Don’t lie or we’ll catch you!” Fortunately, Topgraders have found solutions:

Solution: Disregard the concern. Candidates do not feel threatened! If you don’t believe it just ask successful A Player candidates (not any low performers you’ve rejected) if they were put off by the “threat” of reference check. Clients tell us the answer is almost always, “no, not at all.” After all, there is only a threat to chronic weak performers who hype positives and hide negatives in their resume and interviews. A Players want to arrange those reference calls – TORC is a promise, and opportunity for them to shine, and it’s no threat at all. We should call it PORC – Promise Of Reference Check. If you are still concerned about “threatening” candidates:

Solution: Label them “developmental calls.” Don’t mention the TORC Technique. Don’t even use the words “reference calls.” Ask candidates to arrange developmental calls with their former managers and others. Say,

“A final step in hiring is for candidates to arrange calls with their former managers and others. This is helpful to confirm information but also to help us create a good onboarding program (so that new hires are immediately productive) and begin a developmental process (so that new hires can continue their non-stop growth).”

Concern #2: “We want to do some reference calls on the phone, but we want the opinions of a dozen or more people and all those calls are too time consuming.”

Solution: Automate some reference checking using a company such as Checkster; Checkster makes it easy for candidates to ask the people YOU want referenced to fill out a survey: For instance you can suggest a template like “Dear Pat, I’m taking a fresh look at my career and would appreciate it if you would complete the attached survey that asks your opinion regarding my strengths, weak points and career potentials. It’s anonymous (an outside company collects the surveys). Thank you!”

Some companies like using Checkster to collect information from large groups (sometimes over 10 references and some will enter over 20) and still conduct the phone reference calls of former managers, because they want to have that human contact. Or at lower levels (candidates for entry jobs) they might use Checkster to obtain reference information from 10 people and conduct short (5-minute) reference calls with maybe just the most recent 2 managers.

Concern #3: “Candidates generally don’t want us talking with their current boss.”

Solution: No problem. Ask the candidate to arrange calls with any bosses who left the company or someone at their boss’ level whom they trust. A Player candidates always arrange calls with people in these categories because they can trust those people to keep the secret that they are “looking.”

Conclusion: Topgrading reference checking is sort of like Angie’s List – a way to get honest opinions about people you might hire. Topgrading brings honesty and ethics to a globally corrupt hiring process, so please do not feel at all embarrassed about using a simple process that assures honesty.


Published 9/2/2014

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