executive search manager

Reference checking in executive search – how to do it right?

Reference checks are an essential part of every top-level executive search project. If the final shortlisted candidates are currently in employment, reference checking should already be a well-planned and carefully executed process in the executive search project. Here are 4 basic rules that can guide an executive search professional in conducting a safe and high-quality executive reference check:

1.Only checking the references of the final shortlisted candidates in the executive search process

A common mistake is to attempt to check the references of all the candidates who have just been shortlisted by the executive search firm. There is no reason to do this, as after the first interviews some candidates will be rejected and a final group of the most suitable managers will have already been selected. We recommend that only their references are checked, thus saving the time of the executive searcher, reducing the burden on the candidates and avoiding a process that may then be meaningless if the candidate does not make it to the second round even though the references were good.

2.Careful checking of references

If the final candidates are currently employed, it is strictly forbidden for an executive searcher to check any references independently. All reference contacts must be agreed directly with the candidates and their endorsements obtained. Otherwise, the candidates’ direct employer may become aware of their participation in the selection process, which will not only be to the direct detriment of the candidate, but will also lead to a lack of confidence in the executive selection process.

3.Evaluating references in management selection

Each candidate has personal qualities that are appropriate for one organisational culture but will not be appropriate for another. Thus, an executive searcher can never say unequivocally that a reference was positive or negative. A good executive searcher needs to assess a candidate’s suitability for a particular company on the basis of the information provided by the reference contacts. This is known as a targeted rather than a generic assessment of references.

4.Right method of reference checking in executive search

We cannot impose a convenient way of checking references. Every time a candidate makes a reference contact, it is necessary to enquire directly which is the most convenient way to give the reference, whether it is oral or written. Respecting the convenience of the person giving the reference makes the reference more comprehensive, as they can take the time to do it at their convenience.

By following these 4 rules for checking references in a manual search project, a high level of quality and security of reference checking can be achieved. It is important to appoint an experienced executive recruitment professional to check the recommendations in order to ensure that this crucial phase of the executive search process is carried out safely and with high quality.

Insight by

Karolis Blaževičius

Managing Partner of Indigroup

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