Why Perform a Reference Check On Your Employees - and How to Do Them Right

Posted on 08.23.2017

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Due to the blanket “no-reference” policy trend of larger companies, a reference check on a job candidate can be one of the hardest tasks for HR and recruiting staff to effectively perform. But reference checks are also one of the most valuable tools hiring managers have when making a decision about a future member of their team.

In this article, we will discuss why HR should not give up on reference checking job candidates and how to effectively perform a reference check in the face of today’s challenges.


Why HR Shouldn’t Give Up On Reference Checks

Reference checks are one of the most valuable pre-employment screening tools available to HR staff. If successfully completed, a reference check can provide information about an individual’s practical skills, their work ethic and their character.

Even background checks cannot match the results of a reference check. Background checks determine whether a candidate is qualified based on their criminal convictions, motor vehicle violations or dishonesty about their education or work history, for example.

Additionally, a reference check does what a face-to-face interview can’t. A job candidate may perform well in an unstructured interview with an executive - or even a formal panel interview - but the best indicator of how a job candidate will perform in a given position is how that candidate has performed in the past. References can provide that insight.

Finally, between today’s diploma mill scandals, the increase in the number of candidates who admit to lying on their resumes and the high-stakes of proprietary information and client data, it has never been more important to thoroughly verify a candidate’s credentials before moving them through the hiring process.


How to Perform a Reference Check - and Get Meaningful Results

Be consistent and fair.

A reference check should be conducted on each candidate. Keep in mind your organization may be different than the candidate’s previous employer, so context should be considered. Discrimination laws that apply to interviewing a candidate also apply to reference checking.

Use established standards.

The reference checking process should also be the same for each candidate. Standards allow hiring staff to easily compare one candidate to another. It also allows you to determine whether adjustments to the process need to be made to achieve better results and protects your company from discrimination lawsuits.

Talk to professional connections.

Prioritize connecting with professionals. Supervisors who interacted with the candidate daily within the last five to seven years are often preferred. Ask open-ended, behavioral-related questions specific to the job position. If responses are general and not very descriptive, consider what the reference may not be saying about the candidate that could be important to the hiring decision.

Ask for more.

If a reference doesn’t respond after several attempts or a reference is unable to give meaningful feedback due to their no-reference company’s policy, ask the candidate for another reference to get as much feedback about a candidate’s professional experience as possible. The candidate is not responsible for their previous employer’s policies and will likely be willing to help you with another reference.

Find a work-around.

If you are still unsuccessful, consider alternative ways to learn about a candidate. If a supervisor can’t communicate with you about your potential employee, perhaps the candidate can provide you with a past colleague or co-worker who can. Also, if you have professional connections in common, ask others in your industry who may also know the candidate through past work experience, professional associations or LinkedIn.

Reference checks can be challenging in today’s professional environment, but they continue to be a valuable tool HR and hiring managers should use to determine the quality of a job candidate. Don’t give up!

Triton understands reference checks are critical to the hiring process. If your HR department needs support, we can help. Contact us today to get started.


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