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How to Check References and Why It Is Necessary

Jill Wells

If you believe the reports, a whopping 78% of job seekers are untruthful during the interview process. While sometimes it can be more of an embellishment than an out-and-out lie, it’s the job of a recruiter to sniff out these mistruths.

In some ways, the recruitment process can be an arduous one. You must pay attention to every small detail, every tiny red flag, and every outstanding achievement.

However, one of the most important elements is a concluding one: the reference check.

These checks need to be completed for a variety of reasons. Firstly, you can garner more information about important projects the prospective employee has worked on previously.  Secondly, you can verify certain achievements that were discussed during the interview.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. Reference checks are not witch hunts. Quite the opposite, they’re a wonderful way to learn more, and ultimately understand how you can support new hires. Here’s how to complete these checks with success.

What Is a Reference Check?

In a reference check, the hiring company will reach out to previous supervisors (and, in some cases, schools) to verify employment and educational information provided by the candidate.

This can be a reliable way to verify elements the candidate put forth about their background, experience, and skills.

The Pros and Cons of Reference Checks

Believe it or not, some professionals debate the usefulness of reference checks. Let’s start by exploring what some of the naysayers believe (because we’re about to debunk their myths).

The Cons

Certain sceptics argue that reference checks do little more than confirm what candidates have already put forth.

Others will ask, ‘What’s the point? They’re only going to ask us to call people who liked them’.

Some companies don’t even bother with this stage of the hiring process and that’s a major misstep. Wouldn’t you want to know everything you possibly could before investing more time and resources into a new candidate?

The Pros

This brings us to the major benefits of a reference check after an interview. If any red flags appeared during the interview process (however you still wanted to proceed forward), reference checking can further reveal these flags.

Even if their former supervisor was their friend, you can still poke around those red flags.

Indeed, a work reference can either provide validation about those concerns or remove them from the equation.

If the referee is honest, they’ll also underscore the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. This can provide invaluable insight that will reveal how to best support your new employee once they’re onboarded. Perhaps you’ll learn they’re visual learners, or work well with a little bit of pressure from above.

Tips for Conducting Reference Checks

Now that it’s plain to see this is a missed opportunity if overlooked, here are a few tips that will ensure you maximise every reference check.

Seek Input from Your Team

First, gather everyone together who partook during the interviewing process. Ask them if they had any concerns about the candidate. Did someone feel the candidate didn’t have enough experience to get the job done?

Or, perhaps everyone was satisfied. In that case, find out if there was anything they wished they’d asked, in hindsight. This can immediately be placed on your list of questions during the reference check.

Every ounce of feedback will help you formulate a solid list of questions that should fill in any missing blanks and reinforce conclusions.

Describe the Job

Once you’ve contacted your new recruit’s referee, kick things off with a brief description of the position.  You’ll know immediately if they feel their former employee is up to the task.

Then, ask specific questions about what’s to be expected. For example, you might say, ‘To succeed in this role, the candidate will need to perform well under pressure, meet tight deadlines, and interact in a high-stress environment’.

Ask the referee how they feel the candidate will succeed in such a setting. Offering a colourful description of the main duties will pose a more specific question than, ‘Do you think X can meet tight deadlines?

More to the point, don’t ask closed ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.

Ask Specific Questions

Since this is so important to the success of your conversation, let’s stay here for a moment longer. It’s not just about ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.

You also want to avoid any question that could trigger a blanket response like, ‘Oh, they’re wonderful!’ So, kicking things off with, ‘Tell us more about X, would hardly be conducive.

Instead, highlight something the candidate said during their interview that was striking. For example, if they told you they implemented the document management software into the law department’s server, ask for more details around this subject.

You might say, ‘ X mentioned he/she coordinated the implementation of your document management software. Can you tell me more about X’s impact on that project’?

Reference Check Questions

Above all else, the main goal is to design your questions in a way that aligns with your needs and expectations. You want to enter the conversation with a defined list of questions to ask referees for a position.

Here are some suggestions, broken into general topics/categories:

  • Can you verify the candidate’s job title and responsibilities?
  • What was your relation to them?
  • Why did they leave?
  • How was their punctuality, attendance?
  • Did they ever request an unreasonable amount of time off?
  • Now that we’ve described the position, do you believe the candidate is up for the task?
  • Did they get along with their co-workers?
  • What was their relationship like with management?
  • Can you describe an instance where there was conflict? How did they respond to such pressure? How was it resolved?
  • What are their greatest strengths? (See if this aligns with the candidate’s responses.)
  • What are their greatest weaknesses? (See, too, if this aligns with the candidate’s responses.)
  • Is there any advice you’d like to provide that will enable me to be a support to the candidate?
  • Is there anything else you think I should know about the candidate that I didn’t already ask?
  • Is there anyone else you believe I should speak to about the candidate, a person who can provide further insight?
  • If the opportunity presented itself, would you hire them again?

Allow these questions to serve as a springboard to your conversations. Also, take note of anything during the interview you’d like to follow up with the referee about.

A Streamlined Reference Check Process for Your Organisation

In a way, a reference check can feel a bit like a mini-interview. Just when you thought you were through with the onboarding process, you must interview the candidate’s former supervisors also.

That’s why many employers outsource the process to recruitment agencies when filling a position. There, they find trained professionals who will conduct reference checks in a way that can reveal potential red flags.

No matter how you handle your recruitment process, one thing remains true: you should never shy away from the opportunity to check references. The more time and attention you put into vetting a candidate upfront, the better chance you’ll have of selecting a great hire.

Here at WellsGray Recruitment, we specialise in providing labour-hire personnel specifically within office support area.   Whether you’re looking for temporary or permanent staff, feel free to outsource the entire process to us. We’ll work hard to pair you with the best new hire you could ask for. We invite you to speak to one of our resident experts today!

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