Profile Picture
The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

CW 118: Chris Heinz

Far too many organizations outsource reference checks to technology or a third party. In this month’s episode from recruiting expert Chris Heinz, learn about the value of conducting reference checks and the multiple gains that can be made.

During our Mindset Moment, BTG Contributor Chris Heinz, Managing Partner of Westport One, discusses several ways to get out of the rut. By changing things up, learning new skills, choosing an accountability partner, and creating new consistencies, you can create new excitement.

Sponsored by Peak Senior Living by Functional Pathways.


References are not a pain. References are not a nuisance. References don’t just validate dates of employment and titles. They can make you like the candidate even more.



Welcome to the Contributor Wednesday series on the Bridge the Gap network. This series is sponsored by Peak Senior Living by Functional Pathways each week. You’ll hear from a thought leader, discussing topics that are relevant and impactful to the senior living industry.



Welcome to Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday, I’m Chris Hinez. Over the past several months, we have discussed many elements of how to strengthen and improve your interviewing, recruiting and hiring processes. But there is still so much more to cover. One of those elements are reference checks. Now, I love technology. Frankly, I love everything about it. Well, almost everything. One of the technological advancements that I don’t love is the automation of reference checks. Recently, I spoke two different hiring managers who let me know that their company had recently made the move to utilizing automated processes to check references. And while I can understand the value that is perceived and the fact that they’re getting sold the advantages that if a link is sent to our references cell phone or to their email, which allows them to complete it on their own time, rather than being forced into talking to someone, the theory is that answering questions like these from a link that will discuss their strengths and weaknesses, it’s far less evasive than actually talking to somebody. And they say that the return rate is that much better than a phone based reference.



Yes, these statements may sound great, but they don’t do several important things. A link does not hear the enthusiasm or lack thereof. A link does not allow you to ask relevant, follow up questions. A link doesn’t give you the opportunity to initiate a relationship. Over the course of my 25 years in recruiting, I have found so much value in checking references directly. Let’s discuss the value of a human based, IE, that’s you, reference check. There are several things you can gain. You’ll actually get to validate the candidate is as good as they said they are. You could even learn through the questions that you ask that the candidate is even better than they said they were. If there are any discrepancies into their dates, responsibilities, or known issues, you’ll know this before an offer is given. Many times, these are honest mistakes. While other times, they are, let’s call them fabrications of the truth.



Or if you’re a Marvel fan, they come from an alternative multiverse. You are able to talk to high level executives at other organizations that you may not have been connected with before. These are just four of the values that you’ll gain from checking the reference directly. But let’s dive into a couple of them. Let’s start with validation. Candidates can say just about anything, about their responsibilities, their achievements, how much they loved working for their previous company and how much their current boss loved working with them. And while there are systems like the work numbers, as an example, that will verify dates of employment, that only checked one tiny element of their work history. And if we were to value solely dates of employment and titles, something’s wrong in this world. After all, you are a professional, the candidates you are about to hire are professionals. Why don’t you allow them to be brought to life by learning about their achievements, successes, areas of growth, reasons for leaving directly from one of their supervisors. The stories that they tell you can only be strengthened when you have validation to back them up. A third party statement about your candidate achievements are going to be much stronger than even their own words, because most people are humble about what they did. And this is exactly one of those great elements that a reference can provide.



Validation also means not being blind to the issues that come up. If you learn that something is off from what you understood, such as the dates, the responsibilities, the achievements, the dependability, well, you don’t need just to throw the candidate away and completely remove them from process. Not every reference is a good one. Not every person giving a reference was happy that they left. Is either anger or disappointment from the person giving the reference? And are they using their reference as a way to sabotage or make you question the person’s viability like it or not? If the departure was too recent, there may be some resentment still there. So what should you do, if you get a negative reference. Let’s start with what you shouldn’t do. Don’t call the candidate up, tell them you won’t believe what Billy Bob just said about you resist that temptation, please.



Second thing don’t do. Don’t throw them out. My recommendation is to let the candidate know that you are working on the references and oh, by the way, do they have an additional reference from the XYZ company that Billy Bob works at? Just in case you aren’t able to get them? If that reference also confirms the same issue that Billy Bob stated, well, now you might have the timing and the belief system to believe what’s been told to you. Now, if you are a Billy Bob listening to this podcast right now, I wholeheartedly apologize for painting you in such a bad light.



I digress. A recommendation that I learned a long time ago from someone much, much wiser than me is always follow up a negative reference with an additional reference, only then do you believe it to be true. Beyond validating the candidate’s background, another great part of checking references is the additional connections that you’ll make. As we all know, while senior living is a big industry, it is amazing how small of a world it is. Most higher ups may know each other, but of course not everybody. And if you are rising up the senior living corporate ladder, then you definitely don’t know everybody yet. By checking references and additional gain for you is having a real live conversation with others in the industry. Why not every one of these conversations will result in a lifelong relationship? At minimum, you’ll built the foundation for future conversations.



One final point for the hiring managers listening to this, I realize that a regularly used method of reference checking is the back channel check, which usually entails sending a text to someone that you may know and asking them about their thoughts on candidate. Let’s just call her Amanda. If you do this before a candidate has an offer, please understand a couple important things. Unless you know for certain that the person you are texting will keep this request in complete confidence, you are running the risk of jeopardizing their current position, because if they don’t get the position with you, it is possible by you conducting this back channel check, the wrong person will find out. And the decision that Amanda isn’t loyal will come to light. And that may find a reason for them to let her go. So you should be very careful of playing with people’s careers.



Only do back channel checks with people that you truly know and trust. References should ideally be done once you are confident, this is the person you wanna hire, and you are looking to validate their background. In case you need some self-talk lines about the dreaded reference check, references are not a pain. References are not a nuisance. Reference checks should not be handed off to someone else. References don’t just validate dates of employment and titles. They can make you like the candidate even more. I started off talking about how I love technology. And while there are circumstances where using a technical source to check dates of employment are good enough. Maybe some roles that’s okay for. Particularly at the leadership level and above though, there is just too much value to come from doing the reference directly. For a moment,  I wanna flip the discussion to the potential candidate side of the conversation.



If you are listening to this and you are contemplating looking for a new position, you should spend time to think about who you will give as a professional reference. Many companies only want supervisors and many will want them for your last three previous employers. So who knows who the best person is that can speak best about your performance and your capabilities are. You. Once you’ve determine who these people are, reach out and ask them if you can use them as a professional reference. By doing so, you are making sure that they are even allowed to give a professional reference. Since a small percentage of companies don’t allow their employees to provide anything more than dates of employment. Better for you to know this upfront. But if that is the case, ask them if they would serve as a personal reference. This way you can front load the reference list that you may provide to a potential employer with the line: My previous employer does not allow for professional references to be completed. But let’s call them Johnny boy, who was my supervisor can answer questions as a personal reference. This will cover that right up front. Alrighty. I believe we’ve covered most of the elements of the power of reference checks for both groups, the potential employers and the candidates themselves. Did you get something from this? Please let me know. 



It is now time for our mindset moment. Do you remember the famous Dunkin Donut commercial with the guy who woke up every morning at 3:00 AM, opened up the store and monotonously proclaime:. It’s time to make the donuts. He was so bored with what he did because he did it the same way every single day. That my friends is called being in a rut. There is a good chance that at some point in your career, you’ve gotten yourself into a rut once or twice.



Now, what is a rut? It means that you just go through the motions, doing the same thing that you’ve always done, each and every day, just like you’re making the donuts. Now, there is something to be said for consistency. Of course don’t get me wrong because consistency is a key component of long term success. But consistency in a rut are two very different things. Consistencies are patterns in traits of success. A rut is a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive, but is hard to change. A rut, lacks energy, and energy is a key element of whether we’re successful. Without it, your tone and excitement just aren’t there. Your energy level itself is not there without that tone, excitement, and energy level, you will come across poorly in your conversations, your interactions with peers and potentially with residents. Without that energy, you are in a rut.



So how do we get out of a rut? Well, funny, you should ask guy. I have a couple ideas. Number one, change it up. I am not suggesting that you start using a British accent, unless of course you already have one. I’m talking about changing up your routine. If you always start out the day by talking to the exact same people, try talking with someone different as you as your first interaction. If you always start the day looking at some particular spreadsheet, change that up by starting with a conversation. If you always start the day asking the same question, every single time, find a different way of asking it small changes like this in your activities can reap big benefits because it will feel fresher. Even though it is virtually the same. Number two, upgrade your skills. One of the quickest ways to get out of a rut is to learn new skills.



I don’t care how long you’ve been in this business. If you are truly open-minded, you can always learn new ways to do the elements of your job, whether it be new verbiage or a new process, adding a new element can make it exciting again. Yes, by adding these new skills and trying something new, you will run the risk of failure. And that’s great. The fear of failure will keep you on your toes and keep you focused. And they will keep you out of that rut. And if by keeping you on your toes, doesn’t get you out of a rut. I don’t know what will. Number three: take a break. No one can go at sprint speed every day, nor should they try to. It is also so important to recharge your batteries with a break. These breaks can be during the course of the day with a walk, a conversation with a colleague, not about work, they can be days or weeks long.



Studies have shown that taking a break, even every 45 to 48 minutes while working during the day will significantly improve your productivity. And to fully recharge, taking time off to enjoy with friends and family will give you fulfillment in life beyond just work and will minimize the risk of complete burnout. Now, if you have kids, sometimes you might need a vacation from your vacation. 



Number four: find an accountability partner. A great tactic to get out of a rut is to find an accountability partner that will hold you, hey, accountable. Challenge each other to do certain things each day and weak. Then as the name says, hold each other accountable. This will create a sense of need to complete the tasks and to complete them even better than before, because you are each being held to a standard.



Five: be consistent. Now you’re probably saying, hold on, Chris, isn’t being consistent the pathway to being in a rut? No it isn’t. In fact, I love consistency. I am a big believer in it. I love a different word for consistency called a streak. Just to give you a little bit of peek into myself on this matter, by the time this podcast is released or as the cool kids say this pod drops, I will have succeeded 10,000 steps every day. For more than six years straight, going back to the 2016 summer Olympics. I will have run every day for more than 885 straight days. I will have run at least a 5k race, whether that be a 5k, a triathlon up to a marathon every single month since I started running in 2012. I don’t say these things to brag, but I say them to illustrate that I love consistency, and I love the consistency of keeping a streak going. I don’t believe that any of these streaks would classify me as being in a rut. I believe being consistent gives you the opportunity to strengthen your resolve. It gives you the opportunity to fine tune the elements of discipline, doing the same thing over and over again without change, without accountability, without taking a break can lead to being in that rut. But if you do some of the things like I just mentioned, you can both get out of a rut and stay out of a rut because you don’t wanna be that donut guy.



All righty folks, I hope that you’ve regained something at least one thing from this discussion on the power of reference checks and getting out of a rut. If you have, please let me know. Of course, if you have any comments, questions, complaints, or even conundrums on these points, message me on LinkedIn, stay tuned next month for the next chapter in our recruiting and mindset of ventures. Again, this is Chris Heinz. Thanks for listening to this week’s BTG Contributor Wednesday, and please make sure to connect with me at



Thanks for listening to the Contributor Wednesday series on the Bridge the Gap network sponsored by Peak Senior Living by Functional Pathways for a full library of episodes. Visit BTG


Comments are off this post!

CW 118: Chris Heinz