Conducting Reference Checks – make sure you ask, before you hire


One of the most effective steps you can take before hiring someone is to contact their references. Many people, employers included, overlook this, feeling confident they have found "the perfect match". However, this  step is a key part of any hiring process – understand that past performance is one of the strongest predictors of future performance.

When making your calls (yes, you should call more than one), here are some tips to keep in mind. But before you begin, ensure your applicant has provided you with a written release of information for employment purposes, providing you with permission to contact their previous employer.

1. Confirm employment dates. Are the dates your candidate provided accurate? Did they perhaps indicate they worked from 2007 – 2008 and were only employed from November to January? If honesty is a quality important to you, you will want to know.

2. Confirm who you are speaking with. What is/was the relationship between the referee and the candidate? You will want to know if the referee actually supervised the candidate’s performance. If not, and they were co-workers, has the candidate provided any supervisory references? These days, many employers ONLY accept references from someone who has supervised the candidate’s performance.

3.  Ensure the referee is someone who is authorized to provide the information you are asking for. Many employers only provide this authority to the human resources department, so you may want to contact the employer to find out what their policy is and whether the name you were given is authorized to respond. 

4. If the reference is provided through human resources, you may be disappointed to learn that the company will only verify employment dates. If they are only willing to do this, ask them whether this is their policy. It may also be because the candidate was less than stellar and they don’t want to say anything negative.

5. Your questions should be tailored to the job and should be consistent for each candidate. You may want to use a rating scale for each question. Your questions could include:

What type of work did the person do in their position?

What were their relationships like with others?

What were their strengths/areas to improve?

How would you describe their work performance?

Were there any concerns?

Explain the position they are being considered for. Would they recommend the candidate? Why or why not?

Ask about their personal character – were they dependable, trustworthy, honest? Did they take the intiative? Were they motivated to learn? Did they have a positive attitude?

Ask for examples!

And finally,

Ask if they would re-hire the candidate, if given the opportunity?

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