Dartmouth College on the Value of Reference Checks

‘Interviews, qualifications, and competencies are all very important, but references seal the deal’

Dartmouth College’s talent management team explores every possible avenue to ensure they hire the right candidate — and reference checks are a key part of that process.

“Interviews, qualifications, and competencies are all very important, but references seal the deal,” said Brooke Sullivan, talent acquisition consultant at Dartmouth College. “They give you confidence you’ve selected the right person.”

But Brooke knows that efficient reference checks can do more than solidify a hiring decision. “References tell you right away where a new hire can use some extra help, so you can build out a very extensive onboarding plan with your professional development team,” Brooke explained. “It’s a great opportunity to coach and mentor somebody as they join the team.”

Dartmouth College also uses information gathered during reference checks to ensure new hires’ work environments and responsibilities fit their current skill levels and tendencies. “If we hire someone who isn’t great in front of a crowd, for example, we make sure all of their staff interactions are intimate,” Brooke said. “New employees love that.”
Sharing the praise new hires received is also beneficial.

“Employees like to know that people genuinely want to give them a great reference,” Brooke said. “That’s nice to hear as you’re coming on board.”

But refining your reference checking process to the point where it can improve hiring practices — let alone onboarding — can be challenging. “You have to track people down and get them on the phone. And people are generally very busy,” Brooke said. “Just nailing down a 15- to 20-minute phone conversation can stretch out over two weeks sometimes.”

To improve the efficiency of their reference checking process, Dartmouth purchased SkillSurvey—an online reference checking solution and PeopleAdmin partner—and they’ve integrated the technology with PeopleAdmin’s HigherEd Platform and Applicant Tracking System (ATS). “The integration works by allowing candidates who apply through [ATS] to add their references. Then once they’ve been selected as a finalist, we just click a button to request the feedback,” Brooke explained. “It’ll probably eliminate almost 24 to 48 hours per candidate, which is amazing.”
How does Brooke plan to use that extra time?
“As a talent acquisition consultant, my job is to fill jobs,” Brooke said. “I’ll source more candidates and talk to them about how great Dartmouth College is.”

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