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Automated reference checking software slashes turnaround time

Notre Dame Credit Union cut more than three days from reference checking turnaround time by swapping phone calls for software.

You found the right candidate: great resume, the hiring manager loved her, salary expectations align with the budget, and then ... you have to check references. Even if the hiring process has been moving along at a rapid clip, reference checking can slow it to a crawl.

Any HR manager will attest that manual reference checking is at best an exercise in patience and at worst a frustrating time suck. Before Notre Dame Credit Union implemented automated reference checking software from SkillSurvey, the turnaround time for reference reports was five days. And besides being slow, talking to references on the phone was often a fruitless task.

"It was inefficient and we weren't getting the information we needed on our candidates," said Karen Moscato, chief human resources officer at the Notre Dame, Indiana-based company. "You spend a week or so calling references and they will give you exactly what the candidate wants them to say."

But today, reference checking has improved on both counts. In addition to shaving days off the turnaround time, Moscato said the quality of the feedback has also improved.

Reference anonymity encourages candid comments

According to Moscato, the company started investigating automated reference checking software four years ago. After doing research online, she first presented two vendors to her HR team, and then to the executive panel, with hard cost and time-savings statistics in hand. "After our CEO saw SkillSurvey he said, 'Well, this is a no-brainer,' and away we went," Moscato said.

After a fast and simple implementation and a short training session, the cloud-based reference checking tool was up and running. And because it facilitated the process, reference checking has taken on a more prominent role in the company's hiring. While most companies wait to check references until the very end of the candidate consideration period -- right before an offer is made -- Notre Dame Credit Union often deploys SkillSurvey questionnaires before interviews.

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Moscato gave a rundown of how SkillSurvey figures into the hiring process. First, candidates are asked to provide five references when they submit an application. Next, after candidates have completed a round of phone or in-person interviews, references are emailed a link to a questionnaire tailored to the position with a set amount of time in which to complete it. After answering some multiple-choice and yes-no questions, references write about candidates' strengths and weaknesses.

Automation has knocked more than three days off the reference checking process. "The turnaround is usually 1.2 days -- it's very quick with emails," Moscato said.

But perhaps more importantly, the HR department now gets more candid feedback because comments are kept anonymous. Instead of letting people see who said what, SkillSurvey issues a report that compiles notes without names. And with honest feedback, hiring managers can delve more deeply into problem areas during interviews with questions suggested by the system.

Moscato said SkillSurvey got a workout last year when the organization lost approximately 30% of its workforce due to what she called a "culture shift." The company received nearly 1,000 applications for teller positions alone. Even after such intensive use, Moscato said she has not experienced any challenges with the system.

The tool also helped the credit union save money as it searched for a new chief lending officer. Because Moscato was recruiting candidates across the nation, she deployed SkillSurvey's questionnaire after conducting phone interviews. This helped her identify which candidates she wanted to fly in at the company’s expense for a face-to-face meeting.

Reference checking tool tracks passive candidates

SkillSurvey offers Moscato one additional perk: a repository of passive candidates. After references complete the questionnaire, they indicate whether they'd like to be notified about open positions. The tool retains the contact information of those who opt in.

"If I just hired an IT person [and] I need one two months down the road, I can go back to that passive candidate list," Moscato said. Before, "we didn't have a list to recruit from." She also lauded the tool's built-in analytics.

The only snag Moscato cited was some confusion about a particular metric. "The bad hire cost avoidance -- that's a good graph, [but] we probably need a little bit more description as to what that really means and how we can better explain that to our executives," Moscato said. "If something isn't clear to us, we'll have to call, which is infrequent, but we had to get a little tutoring on that."

But that's a small price to pay for a big payoff.

"If an HR department is still using the old-fashioned method of phone calling references my question would be: Why?" Moscato asked. "SkillSurvey isn't the only reference checking tool out there that is automated, and that can give an HR group much better turnaround and more honest information."

Emma Snider is the associate editor for SearchFinancialApplications. Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24and the site @SearchFinApps.

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Does your company automate reference checking? Why or why not?
We don't, and I suspect it's mostly a budget issue. It's free to make phone calls, whereas new tools are typically costly.  The manual phone calls might be more time consuming, but there is always that element of sticker shock when someone proposes buying new software. 
I like the idea of completing a survey on my own time rather than answering a phone call to provide a reference. Still, I'm skeptical that the feedback is still candid. The reference is still going to say glowing things about the candidate. That's why they were put down as a reference in the first place.
If I didn't expect my references to say all the right things about me, I wouldn't have listed them. That said, I'd expect humans to extract far more real information during conversation than a few multiple choice questions could elicit. Yes, of course this saves lots of time and it's more convenient, but questionnaires would have to be excruciatingly precise and extremely well worded to get down to the truth.