Sometimes, it’s a close call to decide who will be the best fit for a job or promotion. There may be several candidates with the relevant education, training and experience. If that’s the case, the decision may come down to who has the best “soft” skills—subjective qualities indicating a good fit.
Checking applicants’ references can break that tie. Just make sure you take careful notes in case there’s litigation.
Recent case: Janet Romero, who is white and in her 50s, was an accounting technician with the North Carolina state government. She applied for two internal promotions and sued when she wasn’t selected. Her lawsuit claimed that the black supervisor who would manage the candidates once they started work picked two substantially younger black women for the openings.
The supervisor explained to the court how he went about filling the jobs. First, he looked for specific skills, training and experience. Then, when the choice was narrowed down and the candidates had been interviewed, he checked their references. He was especially interested in the candidates’ communications skills because the job entailed working closely with professionals in the medical community.
Romero’s supervisor explained he had reservations about her. He said Romero frequently misspelled words and was not always professional when speaking with co-workers, supervisors and others. The two candidates’ supervisors rated both of them highly, offering no reservations about their communication skills.
The court said that even if Romero met the other requirements, she was not the best qualified based on her supervisor’s assessment. That was a legitimate reason for passing her over. Her case was dismissed. (Romero v. State of North Carolina, No. 1:10-CV-166, MD NC, 2012)
Final note: Remind hiring managers to take notes when checking references. Be sure to retain those notes.