Of course, your recruitment agency can do this hard work for you, but as the interviewer, your task is not over until you have run reference checks on the top applicants to make sure you really do have the full picture.
Mistakes like hiring the wrong candidate can be expensive, as well as a huge waste of the time invested in the process. A great candidate will be happy to cooperate with the reference check as they will have nothing to hide, and by carrying out the process you reduce the chances of finding out your candidate does not have the track record they claimed.
Firstly, you will need to get the applicants permission to proceed and then request contact details of the previous employer or referee you think is most relevant, not the first testimonial offered up by your potential employee. Do make allowances if an approach to their current workplace is off limits because they are keeping their current job search quiet.
Don’t talk to just one person, build up a bigger picture by speaking to two or three referees. Introduce yourself and your organisation, make it clear what you want and that you have the candidate’s permission to talk in confidence. The rest of the conversation should consist of checking the dates of employment and the job titles are correct, and that there has not been any embroidering of skills or responsibilities.
What questions should you ask?
How long did you know and work with the candidate?
What did their job entail?
Do you consider them to be reliable?
What did you appreciate most about their work and what needed improvement?
Would you work with them again?