DIY Reference Checking for CFOs


Straight Answers to Real Questions

Question: I’m the CFO of a $200mm food services company and we’re in the last stages of hiring a controller. Before we make an offer to our finalist candidate, I’d like to check references. Should I ask the recruitment firm I’m working with to conduct the reference checks or should I hire an independent service?

Answer: Most professionals with a straight forward career history tend to have straight forward references – you’ll hear what you’re expecting to hear and it’s usually fine to have the recruiter or other third party conduct the reference check. However, if your finalist candidate has hit a career speed bump in his or her recent past, you should be conducting that particular reference check yourself.

One of the problems with third party reference checks is that they tend to pose stock questions and then faithfully record what are often stock answers. Employers are usually very reluctant to give bad references and will tend to gloss over problem areas and accentuate the positives of their previous employee.

A good reference check is characterized by challenging stock answers and digging deeper into nuanced or hedged responses. If there’s an issue with the candidate that the reference has been skating around, enough pointed questions will eventually reveal the whole story, at least from the previous employer’s point of view.

Your recruiter isn’t incented to dig hard to get to the real story, and the third party reference checker is usually working from a boilerplate question template. You have the most to lose if you hire the wrong person so you should make it your policy to be just a little bit paranoid when it comes to reference checks and do them yourself when warranted.

If you think you may be in the market for top financial talent in the next few months, call me direct or email me, for a no obligation consultation.

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