How Reference Checks Are Different for Executives vs. Non-Executives

Reference checks are an essential part of the hiring process, but not all reference checks are the same. Whenever a job position has a high degree of visibility, the process becomes fraught with even greater difficulty. Solid reference checking can reveal potentially problematic information about the candidate’s past that might cause problems in the future. For this reason, reference checking should always be much more than a formality.

Whether you are utilizing automated reference checking or performing traditional manual reference checks, it is important to use a standardized process that looks at both factual data about each candidate’s job history as well as more qualitative information about characteristics such as leadership style, communication skills and potential strengths and weaknesses.

Here are just a few ways that executive reference checks differ from those of non-executives:

Executive Reference Checks Are Often More Rigorous

Reference checks reduce risk whether or not the candidate is an executive, but risk-reduction becomes particularly important when an employee is both a leader and the public “face” of an organization. What exactly is at stake? Executive reference checks tend to be more grueling and intensive because poor executive hires place organizations at risk of corporate embarrassment and declining stock values. One easy way to make it more rigorous without asking you to spend more time is to ask for the digital version to garner more references to participate. We often see executive Checkup with over 10 references at Checkster. If a company fails to discover that an executive hire lied or hid something on his or her resume, the public fallout can be detrimental to the company’s image when the fabrication is brought to light.

Falsifications are common on non-executive resumes, but there have been a number of executives working for high-profile companies including Yahoo, RadioShack and Bausch and Lomb who have been caught lying on their resumes. While executive hires often rely on recommendations from other high-ranking employees, this does not mean that organizations can afford to overlook the reference checking process.

Executive Hires Can Shape the Company Culture

When hiring any employee, it is important to zero in on individuals who will fit in well with the organizational culture. Quality hires who are deemed a “good fit” tend to get along better with other employees, feel better about their jobs and stick around much longer than those who are out of step with the corporate philosophy.

[Read More: Sample Reference Check Questions]

When it comes to executive hiring, finding the right person can play a role in shaping the culture and future of the company. Reference checking at this point can help pinpoint candidates who can provide the leadership that an organization needs. Businesses that need attention to detail and firm guidance might do better with a more authoritarian executive while those who need inspiration and group participation would be better served by someone with a transformational leadership style. Thorough reference checking can help determine how each candidate performed in previous positions, a major predictor of their potential future success. With structured online approach, it is easy to make sure you ask the specific cultural fit questions to ensure cultural fit.

Third Parties Often Play a Role

More and more companies are relying on third-party automated reference checking tools to improve their hiring process. The executive hiring process is more likely to involve a third-party recruitment firm that performs interviewing and sometimes reference checking to ensure that internal biases and personal relationships do not override good judgment, but digital reference checking avoid this altogether, hence you can repatriate it in your organization for better control or ask for an unfiltered online version.

Whether reference checking is handled by a company's HR department or by an executive search firm, it is important to ensure that checks are performed thoroughly before hiring to avoid any potential corporate embarrassment later down the line. Even if a candidate seems like "the one," hiring managers should remain alert for potential red flags that might indicate resume omissions, potentially unflattering facts about a candidate past or indicators that the individual might be difficult to work with.

Executive hires play an important role in shaping not just the current climate of a company but also its future. Good leaders help inspire employee morale and guide a business toward success. For this reason, executive reference checks can differ somewhat from non-executive ones. No matter what type of position you are hiring for, however, it is important to remember that reference checking is much more than a pre-hire obligation. It should be an ongoing part of the hiring process that plays a major role in whether or not an individual is offered the job.

How does your executive reference checking service differ from that of your non-executive process?