How to Conduct a Great Reference Check

Eric Hawrysz —  December 27, 2012 — 3 Comments

reference check phone callReference checking is an essential aid to employers.  It allows an employer to verify information their applicant has provided and also has the potential to allow the employer another insight into the applicant’s character and work ethic before hiring.

However, many job candidates’ former employers are reluctant to provide any information except basic employment facts about the applicant. This may be for any number of reasons, but it’s an obstacle that could be overcome by having your applicant sign a release form allowing you to contact their listed former employers.  If your applicant has given consent to contact their references, the opportunity should not be glossed over or otherwise overlooked.

How to conduct a reference check

Ideally, you should speak with someone who directly supervised your applicant or directly reviewed the applicant’s performance.  When talking with the references, focus on the applicant’s documented history with the company and with how the supervisors dealt with them.

Prepare for your conversation with references by focusing on the work-related issues raised during the screening and interviewing process. For instance, one recent candidate claimed that she was the top salesperson at a former employer. The reference check call was a great opportunity to confirm that bit of information… she was!

If you have a particular area of concern about a candidate, verify the information with references. Don’t be afraid to be direct during the call. The more direct you are the more likely to get a valuable nugget of information.

Just as there are off-limits questions concerning your applicant in interviews, avoid these out-of-bounds topics for their references:

  • Disability
  • National origin
  • Citizenship
  • Marital status
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy)
  • Political preferences
  • Race
  • Color
  • Creed
  • Age

Questions that concern the above topics would definitely get you in trouble with EOE and ADA compliance. Avoid the hassles and steer clear from them and focus on the applicant’s duties and how they performed at their previous jobs.

Reference checks, if performed correctly, have the potential to ensure your hire is a great hire.

Please share a story or best practice from your reference checking!

Photo Credit: Willy D (Flickr)

Eric Hawrysz

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Eric’s our IT Manager at NewHire. He’s the go-to tech guy at the office, and when not at work, you can find him helping to stage local theatre, or getting ready for the next Comic-Con Convention.

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