360 Degree Referencing

Reference checks are an indispensable tool to validate findings from the Leadership Assessment Profile and the Competency-based Interview.

360.pngReferences are particularly important when questions or discrepancies are identified from other tools. For example, if a candidate for a sales positions tests high on sales competency but also indicated a strong preference for introversion, a reference check should reveal if the introversion preference negatively impacted performance.

To assemble a complete portrait of a candidate, and whenever it’s possible given the confidential nature of the search process, we interview a candidate’s managers, direct reports, and colleagues. We develop a series of questions to assess how well the candidate demonstrated the competencies required for the position in prior jobs and to identify the candidate’s leadership and functional work styles.

Reference checks can be particularly important in differentiating finalists for a position and in uncovering red flags that should give an organization pause about proceeding with a candidate. 

Example 1: Breaking a Tie

There are two finalists for a CEO position at a private equity backed company that generates $500 million in annual revenue.

Both candidates scored high on the Competency Based Interviews and both display the leadership traits necessary to succeed in the position, as measured by the Leap Assessment. Board members who have spoken with each candidate are evenly divided in their choice.

Candidate A was executive vice president of a large division of a Fortune 500 company in a related industry. The candidate led the development of several new products and transformed the division from an industry also-ran to a market leader.

Candidate B was a CEO of two small, private equity backed companies. In both cases, the candidate improved profitability within three years, allowing the private equity owners to sell the companies for a large profit.

The reference check revealed that Candidate A preferred to focus on big-picture strategy and product development and expected staff to manage day-to-day operations and manage customer relationships on their own. As a result, several important personal issues were allowed to fester and negatively impacted morale. References were unanimous in their view that the candidate had reached a career impasse and was unlikely to be promoted to a higher position.

Candidate B, on the other hand, was praised by references for taking a hands-on approach to improve operations, strengthen the executive team, and develop strategies to drive short-term financial results and long-term growth. The candidate created a culture of high-performance, aggressively (but humanely) weeding out subpar performers and hiring very effective managers. References extolled the candidate for being a highly engaged and inspiring leader.

The 360-degree reference check broke the tie. The client felt very comfortable offering the position to Candidate B, who subsequently received rave reviews from the PE firm.

Example 2: The Red Flag

A CEO of $100 million privately held company was looking to fill the role of executive vice president of finance. The company was expanding and looking at acquisitions. The finance role would figure prominently in facilitating strategy and driving growth.

A candidate was identified as a top contender. The person displayed all the competencies required by the role in in-person interviews and demonstrated the creativity and flexibility demanded by the position in the Leap psychometric testing.

The candidate left the previous position six months ago and had spend three months traveling the world with family, fulfilling a long-term personal goal. Re-charged, the candidate was eager for a new challenge.

The references supplied by the candidate from earlier positions were effusive in their praise. However, the one candidate-supplied reference from the previous position was less than forthcoming, providing short and very general responses to our questions.

A 360-degree reference check quickly revealed the problem. Two colleagues of the candidate told us he had been terminated for cause due to an ethical lapse in judgment. One said directly, “He’s a brilliant guy, but he comes with baggage.”

The fact is people are not always forthcoming about their past issues in interviews. A 360-degree reference check is indispensable in uncovering the facts about a candidate and is vital to making good hiring decisions.