Nonverbal cues can often tell you more about a person than what that person spells out in an e-mail or conversation. One area where this comes up for many entrepreneurs is in hiring. When you ask most CEOs or business owners what keeps them up at night, it's either that they don't have enough good employees to grow or the ones they have are driving them crazy.
Finding great talent is one of the toughest things I've had to deal with as an entrepreneur. If your business is growing quickly, you may find that everyone's skills aren't growing accordingly and your early resources have hit their threshold. Bringing on new talent takes time and you want to make sure you're constantly upgrading with every new hire.
Whether you're looking for full-time or contract help, the informal reference check is one of the best ways to get honest feedback when making a hiring decision. Everyone has one old colleague from a prior job who can vouch for them. And with a little social networking, you can find others who have also worked with the candidate. Sites such as LinkedIn let you search for common connections. However, sometimes the person sending in a reference is a relative or friend, so the testimonial may not be truly objective about the person's work habits.
Do your homework and check the back channel for relevant information. When you're calling references and you hear a pause or hesitation in the voice, they may be trying to tell you something. If a previous employer can only confirm that your candidate worked for her, but offers nothing else, that should be a clue that there were potentially some issues. Or if someone doesn't sound genuinely excited about a candidate, take note and pay attention.