A 5-minute phone call can save you thousands of dollars

Make the most of your reference check by talking with a candidate's co-workers. This is how you can get more information out of them.

When employers think of a reference check, they often consider just one person: the job candidate's former boss. Worse, some employers skip looking into a candidate's background altogether.

Companies can't afford to cut corners while conducting a reference check. Talking to a potential employee's former boss is not enough--former co-workers can give employers a more in-depth look at how a candidate works.

A June study from SkillSurvey found that when professional references provide open-ended feedback, managers tend to emphasize task-related behaviors (e.g., meeting deadlines, working independently), while co-workers emphasize interpersonal behaviors (e.g., helpful, compassionate, listening).

Tiffany Schaar, vice president of operations and employee development at PR agency Sterling Communications, says she experienced this firsthand when she contacted a candidate's former co-worker.

RELATED: Check out these 50 everyday expenses you should stop spending your money on:

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50 everyday expenses you need to stop spending money on
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50 everyday expenses you need to stop spending money on
ATM fees

"Take a bit of extra time to withdraw money from your bank's ATM and save on the cost to withdraw your own cash or if your bank has a mobile app, use it to find an in-network ATM near you."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Lottery tickets

"According to the Powerball, the odds hitting the jackpot are 1 in 292,201,338.00, and CNN cites that Americans spent $70.15 billion in 2014. Let's save our hard-earned money."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Coffee

"A daily cup of joe adds up if you purchase it at places like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Save by brewing at home."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Credit card interest

"Maintaining a balance on your card usually you to pay interest each month. Try to pay off your credit card balance in full each month or send more than the minimum payment. As always, use your credit cards responsibly."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Kids meals when dining out

"When you do dine out and if you have kids with you, be sure to take advantage of 'kids eat free' specials. Most restaurants have specific days of the week when they offer free kids meals."

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Gas station food and snacks

"Although it may be convenient, prices are always marked up when compared to other stores. So take the time to shop for food in advance at your grocery store and pack emergency snacks in your car."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Pumping premium gas

"Some vehicles may not require premium gas, which is the most costly of the gasoline grades. Stop trying to be fancy, check the owner's manual, and save."

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Banking fees

"Don't pay to manage your money at a bank. Find banks that offer free banking or bank online for free like CapitalOne 360. Earn $25 when you open a free checking or high-yield savings account."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Change-counting machines

"Many of us like to keep our loose change in a jar and let it collect over time. Once it's full, don't pay machines to count it for you, go to your bank to deposit your savings or have it exchange for cash."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Wasting gas due to low tire pressure

"You may not know this, but having low tire pressure affects your mileage significantly. Save gas and money by improving your gas mileage by simply checking your tire pressure and maintaining it at the proper level."

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Single car washing

"Many car wash places offer a flat monthly rate for unlimited washes, so check with your local car wash to find out if they offer a monthly rate and cash in on a clean car. Or, you can get a discount when you pump your gas."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Bottled water

"Unless you live in an area where potable water isn't safe, don't waste your money on bottled water. Often times, it's simply bottled tap water. Buy a reusable water bottle or invest in a quality water filter, and save (plus you'll reduce plastic waste)."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Cigarettes

"It's a tough addiction to beat, but it is a very expensive to purchase cigarettes daily. Aside from causing deadly health effects, according to Time, smoking can cost you $1 to $2 million in a lifetime. Make an effort to better your health and wallet."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Gift bags and wrapping

"Reuse bags from previous occasions if they are still in good condition. We started doing this last year and no longer have to run out and by $3+ gift bags when we go to events or parties."

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Plastic bags fees

"For those living in an area where stores charge for plastic bags (*cough cough Chicago*), bring your own reusable one. Those cents add up!"

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Utility bill payment fees

"Skip the line at the currency exchange or grocery store and pay online using checking account or debit card. Some companies charge to use a debit card, so schedule e-check payment, which is typically free."

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Travel size toiletries

"For the frequent traveler, you should buy empty travel containers and refill with shampoo, lotion, etc. as needed."

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Paper

"Unless you're a student, you probably don't really need to buy a lot of paper – reuse already printed pages and use both sides."

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Magazine and newspaper subscriptions

"Save money and paper by keeping up with free online news services."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Paying for premium streaming music services

"In the digital age of music, don't pay for premium services. Streaming companies like SoundCloud and Spotify allow you to listen to music for free."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Buying books

"If you'd like to truly own a book, then save on the paper and extra cost by purchasing the digital version, or go to your local library and check them out for free."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Library late fees

"Remember to return all materials on time. It'll save you money and allow for other library patrons to enjoy the material in a timely manner. If you do have library fees, wait for a month when they accept canned goods as a payment method (usually around the holidays)." 

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Brand new video games

"Skip the early release and commotion of having the latest video game. Save major bucks by purchasing a used version of the game online or at stores like Game Stop."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

In-app purchases

"Gaming apps are meant to entertain, and while most of them are free, don't fall for the "purchase bonus lives" trap. In-game purchases add up."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Greeting cards

"Take some time to make your own personal cards or send an eCard and skip on the expense."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

New phone chargers

"If you forget your charger and your phone needs to be charged, some time you'll be inclined to purchase a new one, but it can be costly or even poor quality. Always keep your charger handy, look for a charging station where you're at, or simply ask to borrow one."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Expiration dates

"Sometimes, expiration dates may not reflect the true shelf life of a product. Don't waste food (and money) by throwing out a product which may still be fine to consume. Check out Eat By Date and see for yourself the true shelf life of your groceries."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Stuff on your birthday

"When you're heading out and can't or don't want to drive, consider calling Uber or Lyft instead of calling a cab so you can save money on the ride. You can use my linkto get $20 off your first Uber ride."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Batteries

"Save on disposable batteries and purchase rechargeable ones. They can last up to two to three years."

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Pens

"Many offices, banks, insurance companies, etc, give them away for free. Save them and skip on the purchase."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Insurance

"Be sure to get the best rate for your individual needs, whether it is car, health, home or life insurance."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Garbage bags

"If your area doesn't charge for using plastic bags, reuse the ones you get from shopping as garbage bags. I do this all the time."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

More house than you need

"While some families "grow into" their homes, sometimes less is more. Save on mortgage and the possibility of purchasing more for a larger home. Downsize and save."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Club/bar full cover charges

"While having a spontaneous night out is fun, if you RSVP when possible, arrive early, or take advantage of online ticket sales, you can skip out on paying in full at your favorite nightlife places."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Leaky faucets

"If you pay for water utility bill, according to the EPA, fixing leaky faucets saves you 10% on your bill. By ignoring it, you not only lose money every day it goes unfixed, but you also waste clean water, at a rate of 10,000 gallons per year."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Fast food restaurants

"Improve your health and wallet by not eating fast food often. It may be cheap, but it adds up, especially if you eat out a few times per week. Instead, spend the money and the time to grocery shop and prepare meals."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Cool drafts

"Save on heating and electric bills by fixing drafts and keep the warmth and cool in your home during the winter and summer."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Unnecessary data phone plans

"Unless you need unlimited data for work, you should not spend much on your cell phone bill. I save a ton of money on my cell phone bill by using Republic Wireless."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Pet food

"You may not be able to cut out this expense completely if you have pets, but you can score free cans of pet food with coupons occasionally so you won't have to spend as much."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Buying lunch

"Sometimes you're running late for work and don't have time to pack a lunch. Buying lunch often costs much more than preparing and bring a meal to work. Spend some time planning, purchasing and preparing meals ahead of time so they're ready to go, even when you're in a hurry."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Leaving electronics plugged in

"Even though you may not use them often, electronics that are plugged in still consume energy. Unplug appliances you don't you often and keep other electronics on a power strip, turning them off when not in use."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Prepared grocery store meals

"When you do go grocery shopping, sometimes the already-prepped sub or diced fruits and veggies tempt you to buy them and save time, but you'll be paying top dollar for those products. Plan a list ahead of time and buy the individual food items, then spend the time prepping them yourself in order to save.

If you have trouble making grocery lists and figuring out what you're going to eat each day, I'd highly recommend trying out the $5 Meal Plan so you can receive healthy meal plans and recipes to your inbox."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Vending machine snacks

"Not only are these snacks typically unhealthy (there goes your healthy habit), they are typically much more expensive than their grocery store counterparts. If you find yourself buying vending machine snacks, try to save the money instead and see how much you have leftover at the end of the month. You can probably invest it."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Transportation

"When you're heading out and can't or don't want to drive, consider calling Uber or Lyft instead of calling a cab so you can save money on the ride. You can use my link to get $20 off your first Uber ride."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Brand name items

"Save money by skipping on the brand names, like medicine, toiletries, and certain foods. Remember that healthier options with fewer additives may cost more and in that case they may be worth it. Otherwise, generic is the way to go."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Buying smaller/single packs

"Save money by skipping on the brand names, like medicine, toiletries, and certain foods. Remember that healthier options with fewer additives may cost more and in that case they may be worth it. Otherwise, generic is the way to go."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Purchasing paper towels/paper napkins

"You are purchasing these to eventually throw them out. Save on the waste and save money by buying reusable, washable towels and napkins. Your wallet and the environment will thank you."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Paying extra for night time movie showings

"Primetime showings are typically 2x higher than those during the day. Go to morning matinees or take advantage of weekly specials ($5 movie nights during the week)."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Movie theater food

"Often times, movie theater food can cost more than the ticket to get in. Try to keep food purchases to a minimum when you can or eat a filling meal before you go see a movie."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

DVDs and On Demand

"Instead of spending money on purchasing the movie, subscribe to streaming services and find an alternative or go to your local library."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

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"Her previous supervisor had great things to say about her ability to manage clients, juggle new business, and always meet deadlines," said Schaar.

Schaar continued: "But the candidate's colleague gave me a detailed example of how well the candidate helped with training her. She documented everything, spent one-on-one time with them, and left her with a cheat sheet that she ended up using the entire time she worked there."

This gave Schaar a better idea of how the candidate would work alongside current employees, which helped her make a more informed hiring decision.

When it comes to reference checking, here's how employers can get the most out of a candidate's co-workers:

Explore areas for improvement.

Co-worker references tend to talk about the positives, but that may only be one side of the story.

As Ariana Moon, senior recruiter at Greenhouse, an ATS and recruiting software company, found, it's best to encourage references to share where the candidate can improve.

To do this, Moon takes a specific approach:

"I like to start by asking the following question: 'What is something Laura helped you do better?' Then, I'll follow up by flipping the question: 'What is something you were able to help Laura do better?'"

"The key is to phrase your questions in a way that allows you to understand your candidate's strengths and areas of improvement without making references feel that they're talking explicitly about weaknesses," said Moon. "It's about asking guiding questions that lead to detailed and constructive conversations anchored in real-life examples."

Technology can help employers manage and track this information. Tools like ONEMINT streamline this process. This workforce management solution simplifies recruitment and talent acquisition by helping employers source, track, and evaluate top talent.

Encourage honesty.

Co-workers typically spend more time together than they do with their bosses, so they can provide more accurate information about how a candidate performs.

Meghann Isgan, human resources manager at Readers.com, an online retailer that sells eyewear, suggests a two-part method. First, ask the candidate how their co-workers would describe working with them. Then, ask their co-workers the same.

"If the co-worker's response aligns well with the candidate's answer, it tells me the candidate has a good awareness of how others perceive them, which is essential for adapting to different teams," she explained.

"One candidate said she was a great team player. Her previous boss gave her a glowing review, but the co-worker shared how the candidate often steamrolled others to get her way and wouldn't consider opinions from those who disagreed with her."

The co-worker's honesty ultimately helped Isgan avoid what could have been a bad hire.

Look for verification.

Some candidates may appear perfect on paper, but appearances can be deceiving. Reference checking with co-workers helps employers verify information on the candidate's resume.

"Look for trends in co-workers' answers that are consistent or contradictory with what you've learned," said Emily Elder, practice development manager at RiseSmart, an outplacement and career transition services company.

"You should also be looking for specific examples of how the employee has performed under specific circumstances," she said. "By asking situational or behavioral questions, you can learn how your potential employee may respond if faced with similar situations in your organization."

If everything lines up, employers can be more confident about what type of employee the person will be.

Assess teamwork skills.

As the creator and a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) of the From The Inside Out Project, a program that focuses on improving the attitudes and behaviors of hourly employees, Laura MacLeod learned a lot about how to assess a candidate's specific skills.

When consulting for a social work agency, she found it hard to gauge a candidate's interpersonal skills when talking with their co-workers.

"They would say the candidate was 'positive and very enthusiastic,'" she said. "These general comments aren't useful."

If the position requires working with others frequently, it's a good idea to learn about the candidate's teamwork skills. So, ask co-workers for specific examples of how the candidate works and collaborates with others.

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