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Reference checking when done correctly can be very powerful. Most employers check references, but the important factor is how the reference check is performed.

Most reference checking is more of a box checking exercise than what it really should be, which is validating that the candidate really did what they told you in the interview. That should be the focus of a reference check.

Good reference checking starts with good interviewing. Train your people to ask for examples in the interview. Probe deeply into those examples to get time frames, budget, size, issues they overcame, problems they solved, why they did X instead of Y and so on.

Then, instead of asking the standard box checking questions everyone asks, change the reference check. Ask the reference, “During the interview, Tom indicated he did X, can you tell me more about what his role was and some of the more difficult issues he had to overcome?”

Does the reference’s story validate what the candidate told you, or is it something different? Was the candidate accurate, or did they embellish? When references are done properly they can provide a wealth of valuable information.