Preemptive calibration, also known as pre-referencing, is common practice in senior executive search, one that sourcing teams should emulate.  When was the last time you included a step in your candidate sourcing process to determine which experienced hire candidates are good from independent sources? I’m not talking about candidate assessment or reference checks. They come too late in the game and result in a lot of unhappy people, not the least of which is the hiring executive, should the assessment or references not check out. No one wants to discover that a candidate that you’ve screened, interviewed, and were on the verge of hiring was not what he appears to be. Alternatively, perhaps you currently work for an organization that has a policy not to check references, which then practically guarantees you will then hire that “special someone”. The problem with waiting until the very end to determine who’s good and who’s not means you’ve invested all that time processing a candidate who is unworthy. You may even result in a bad hire. Clearly, there has to be better way.

Preemptive Calibration – A New Step in Candidate Sourcing

Recruiting research should develop qualitative information about passive candidates early on to reduce the risk of candidate implosion. Quite simply, you must insert a step in your sourcing process to calibrate or pre-reference candidates to determine who’s got sterling reputations and who’s got rusted ones.

Preemptive calibration is a light reference with former co-workers (never current) and others who might be familiar with a candidate’s work. It is best done by not mentioning a candidate’s name, but rather by steering a conversation so that your reference will mention it.   Pre-referencing has to be done artfully and with discretion. You must never indicate a candidate is in touch or interviewing with your or your firm.  You must never focus the conversation too much on the individual you are sourcing. Be sure to discuss other individuals as you “network” and request insights as to who is good.  In doing so, you’ll learn who’s smart (but a handful), who’s up-and-coming (but arrogant), and ultimately, who is unquestionably awesome. Pre-referencing enables you to be forewarned and forearmed. It alerts you going into the interview process as to whether there are issues that require further probing. Discreetly sussing out reputation is a delicate art and requires an extra step on the front end of the search process, but it quickly winnows down your long list to a short list of contenders, so you don’t have to waste time calling everyone up to recruit them. At a minimum, it can help you prioritize who’s hot and who’s not.

A caveat about preemptive calibration — one must always consider the source, the motivations, and evaluate that data point in context. When a couple of independent sources agree, you weigh that information more heavily. When sources disagree or are painting vastly different pictures as to whether a candidate is worthy, it time to focus on other candidates where the reputation is consistently above the bar.

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