This article was written by Meredith Castin PT, DPT, and has been vetted by the CovalentCareers team for inclusion in our resource library.

Introduction

Hiring a new healthcare employee can be an entirely stressful experience. It is time-consuming and can be very chaotic, depending on whether you have the right processes in place for hiring. 

Choosing the right fit - someone who will enjoy the role and grow with the team - is the obvious end goal, but this isn’t always as simple as it sounds. 

Without following a formalized hiring process, you could inadvertently be setting yourself up to hire the wrong person for the job.  

The Temptation to Skip Checking References

One of the easiest ways to shoot yourself in the foot during the hiring process is to disregard your candidates’ references. It’s a little too easy to make this mistake. Someone might have a flawless healthcare resume, an articulate cover letter, and polished healthcare job interviewing skills, which can tempt you to skip the time and hassle required to check references. 

But beware! Never let a candidate’s slick presentation serve as an excuse to skip the reference-checking step of the hiring process.

Why? 

Because, as Danny Goodrich, Head of Candidate Success at CovalentCareers.com notes, “Checking references is the best way for you to learn about what a candidate is really like on the job, meaning what it’s like to work with him or her, and how reliable he or she really is.”

Why Check References?

Job references are a window into an applicant's past performance.

Someone might interview like a champ and have keen attention to written communication. Those traits will likely put him/her at the top of your candidate pool. 

But do you really know anything about: 

  • The applicant's ability/willingness to show up to work on time
  • How he/she works in a team environment? 
  • How he/she handles conflict? 

The only way you can learn more about these interpersonal skills that will make or break your practice is to talk to someone who can tell you first-hand how your candidate performed in the past.

You might catch your candidates telling fibs. 

I don’t mean to make you paranoid about finding out dirty skeletons in your candidates’ closets. But if your candidate listed that he or she worked in a certain position for 2 years, you will want to confirm this fact by checking with his or her references. 

You might find that your candidate actually spent 9 months in the role, which is reason to do a bit more digging to find out what caused that candidate to jump ship.

It’s an opportunity to learn more about job candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. 

You likely ask your potential employees about strengths and weaknesses during the eyecare interview process, but a great way to learn more about them is to chat with former employers and colleagues. Without asking inappropriate questions, you are still able to glean important information about how your candidates handle stressful situations, work with difficult patients or scenarios, and cope when things don’t go their way. 

It makes your practice seem more professional and selective.

Frankly, I appreciate when my employers check my clinical references, because I am confident that the references I have chosen will say good things about my performance at work. 

That said, I’m also a little surprised when nobody bothers to check my references. It makes me wonder how many other applicants were vying for the role, and it makes me concerned that my potential employer may make rash or hasty decisions. 

Worse yet, it makes me wonder if the employer is checking on more important aspects of my work history, including whether I actually attended the graduate school listed, or whether I actually have a clinical license to practice (I do!). 

It’s a professional networking tool for the future. 

As noted above, it looks good to your potential candidate when you call/email the listed references. It also looks mighty fine to the folks you’re calling. It says a lot about your ability to be selective when you check job candidates’ references. 

What are Some Signs of Good references? 

Really, any reference is better than no reference. But some signs of particularly good references include:

  • A colleague and/or manager/subordinate from the same industry
  • A former manager or subordinate from any industry
  • Someone with whom the applicant has worked in recent years

How to Spot Suspicious References:

The phone number or email address listed is not in service. 

While one can certainly conceive of a reference deciding to change phone numbers or email addresses once in awhile, it’s a major red flag if none of the references’ contact numbers or emails are in service. 

It says that your healthcare job applicant might not have much of an ongoing relationship with any former colleagues, and it also shows that the candidate might not have checked with the references to get the OK. 

If they had, they’d likely have the correct contact info.

It’s hard to get the references on the phone, or they won’t reply to emails. 

A difficult-to-pin-down reference can be a good thing or a bad thing. If a single reference is evasive, it could be due to job or family obligations, travel, or other unforeseen circumstances. But if none of the references makes any effort to speak with you, it could be a sign that they don’t want to go through the awkward process of explaining why your candidate is a dud.

The references are very out of date, or are only from industries unrelated to your own. If the only professional reference listed is Dr. Brown’s former boss from his high school Arby’s job, it’s a bit of a red flag. 

Look for recent and/or eyecare job references whenever possible. 

Now, the exception to this rule is when you’re primarily looking to hire new healthcare graduates. With exception to volunteer, technician/clinical assisting work, or student affiliation experience, the majority of references might come from previous jobs before the attended school to become a clinician in your industry. 

All references listed are personal references. 

We all know someone who is a pleasure to be around on a personal basis, but they turn into Cruella DeVille on the job. If a candidate only lists personal references, it could be a huge red flag about how they perform at work.

Tips on Checking References: 

  • Be polite, considerate, and keep it brief- Your references have lives, jobs, families, and social commitments. Don’t abuse the privilege by keeping them on the phone more than about 10 minutes, max.
  • Take a positive approach- Rather than looking at these folks as potential honey pots to trap the flies of deceit, give your candidates the benefit of the doubt. Ask questions about what made the candidates memorable, and what made them enjoyable to work with. Save any “negativity” until the end of the interview, asking, “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t recommend Dr. Harris for my practice?”
  • Thank the reference and ask if they have any questions for you- They likely will not, but if they do, it could be an opportunity to share information about your workplace, which might eventually lead to a relationship. You never know when a marketing opportunity will present itself, so open the doors!

Rules About References: 

I was surprised to learn that federal laws do not restrict what former employers can (or cannot) disclose about employees. 

At the same time, defamation laws (protecting people from libel and slander) have made many employers a bit reluctant to gab too much about former employees.

Here is why: If a former employer accidentally mixes up two people, it could amount to a huge legal hassle, because they could wind up providing the wrong information and costing someone a job. For this reason, many companies are a bit reserved about providing much information about job candidates.  

Asking questions with tact can help you extract the full story about your candidates. Don’t be surprised if some references, especially those at large companies, will only provide the bare basics, such as dates of employment, salary, and position. 

And don’t forget, state labor laws do vary across states. Make 100% sure to consult your state labor department website so that you can understand what employers can (and cannot) disclose about former employees. 

General tips of what to avoid when communicating with candidates’ job references:

  • Anything that feels wrong, or too personal- Steer clear from asking about personal info, such as marital status, children, how often the person was out for illness/family issues. If you really want to know these things, try to glean information by asking less direct questions, such as, “How reliable was this candidate in day-to-day operations?” 
  • Digging too deep into pay, benefits, or compensation- If you have that information, you might want to confirm it with the former employer (if that is legal in your state - see above). But be careful about if and how you request this information. Really, what business is it what your candidate earned in the past? He or she could have been grossly overpaid or underpaid, and your offer should reflect your own value of the candidate’s worth, not someone else’s. Besides, the candidate left the last job for a reason. Money might have a lot to do with that. And if you dig too much, the reference might tell your candidate that you were a little too interested in his/her former compensation. This could turn off an otherwise excited job candidate. 

Conclusion

As you can see, checking job references should never be skimmed over when you’re vetting candidates for your workplace. Doing your due diligence can help you avoid hiring a hot mess, and can also help you discern between multiple appealing candidates. And all the while, it can help elevate your practice’s professionalism and serve as an opportunity to network in unconventional ways. 

Happy hiring! 

References:

https://www.thebalance.com/what-can-employers-say-about-former-employees-2059608

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