Our last entry on reference checks delved into best practices when hiring for management roles. But what about when you’re recruiting for skilled trades on the floor or in the field? Odds are, you don’t have the capacity to conduct 7 references for an electrician or heavy duty mechanic. So, let’s focus on the must-haves when calling a reference for a skilled trade worker.
A good rule of thumb is to get a reference from the candidates current direct supervisor and their direct supervisor from their previous job. Of course, if they’ve worked at the same company for 10 years, then calling a previous employer won’t give you the most up to date information on their skills. In that case, try to get the direct supervisor and maybe the supervisor above them. A co-worker, while a nice thought, is not ideal. What you’re looking for is a supervisor to give you information, and a second to either corroborate or contradict that info.
Tradespeople don’t go through 4-year apprenticeships and examinations because these jobs are easy or self-explanatory. These are complex roles, and often dangerous. You need to know what the candidates’ skill level is in order to keep everyone safe and your workplace productive. Make sure to ask the reference person what equipment the candidate worked with, and where their technical strengths and weaknesses lay. If an HR person is asking the questions, they might not know all the ins and outs of conveyors or diesel engines, so have them get as many equipment names as possible.
In my opinion, soft skills are just as important as technical skills. You can have someone who’s a whiz with a welding torch, but that won’t do you any good if they don’t show up to work half the time. Reliability, punctuality, the ability to work with other people are all soft skills. They tell you if this is someone you would want to work with. You don’t want to be responsible for hiring the one person the rest of your team can’t stand.
Would you work with them again?
This is probably the best indicator if someone is a good employee. Would the candidate be welcomed back, or kept on, if those were the circumstances? The answer should always be yes. If not, try to find out why someone who has experience working with them would rather not go through the experience again. Which brings me to a final thought for job seekers themselves…
Candidates: check with your references first!
Whenever you are at the reference stage with a possible employer, check in with your references before you give out their contact info! This is your chance to gauge how willing they are and how positive the reference may be. If you have any conflicts with your supervisor, it may be an opportunity to talk it out and come to an understanding.
What have been your experiences with reference checking? Did I miss anything?
Kael Campbell is President and Lead Recruiter of Red Seal Recruiting Solutions, a company providing recruitment services in mining, equipment and plant maintenance, utilities, manufacturing, construction, and transportation. When he is not recruiting, Kael spends as much time as possible with family in the great outdoors and on the water. He volunteers his time as a Board Member of the Entrepreneurs Organization of Vancouver Island. You are invited to subscribe to our employer newsletter or submit your resume.