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Checking references: what you need to consider

If you are responsible for hiring, it would be wise to do some reference checks. In this case make sure that you have the candidates’ permission to do so. You can either do it on your own or you can contact a company that will check references for you and provide you with a report. 

According to a SHRM survey (Society for Human Resource Management) more than 8 of 10 HR Professionals said that they regularly conduct reference checks for professional (89%), executive (85%), administrative (84%) and technical (81%) positions. The survey also reveals that job seekers provide false information: 53 % of job candidates lied regarding the length of employment and 51 % mentioned false past salaries! 

What is an effective way of checking references? Let me share some tips: 

  • Find out what the best method is to reach your references, writing or calling are the most used methods. Bear in mind that oral reference checks are quicker and time saving but often also more revealing because people might share information that they usually would not put in writing. On the other hand, written requests would prove that you did your job duty as a Hiring Manager properly but are also more time consuming. Since no employer would write negative references there would be no guarantee that you would get a reply. Being sued by a former employee and having to appear in court  would be expensive and time consuming. 
  • Don’t just rely on those references that are provided by the candidate (professional, educational, personal references) but look beyond and try to find some more. It is obvious that those contacts that the candidate provides will give positive feedback. Another approach could be to get in touch with some people that have worked for or with your candidate and see what they have to say. Linkedin and other social media websites could help you in getting some more information off the record. Contacting business acquaintances, customers, vendors etc. can also be considered. 

* Google search the person and see what else you can find online about the candidate. You can view the person’s Facebook page, read what s/he is tweeting about, look at his/her connections and professional content that has been published on Linkedin and other smaller social media websites. It will give you a deeper insight into the person, that you might have never come across anywhere else. 

  • Make sure you approach the right person from the beginning. Ask open-ended questions which will provide you with in-depth answers. Listen carefully whether there are moments of hesitation, hostility, pauses etc. It would be very effective to ask for specific examples when he showed positive attitudes. 

Let’s assume Kevin, an IT professional, is the candidate whose references you need to check. What would you ask his former employer (remember to ask only job-related questions)? 

  • What was Kevin’s title, role and length of employment?
  • What job duties and responsibilities did he have?  
  • What was his reason for leaving?
  • Would you hire him again? If yes, why? If not, why not?  
  • How was his performance: did he meet, not meet or exceed the expectations? 
  • To what extent did he advance in the organisation? Did he remain in the same job position or did he get promoted?
  • What were his strengths?
  • Was he punctual? Was he often absent?    
  • What was his initial and last salary? 
  • How did he get along with customers, work colleagues, managers? 
  • Is there anything else that would be important to know about him? 
  • How would you evaluate his performance in his new job? (Here you are required to provide some more information!)

Make a job offer to the right candidates only once you checked their references (both educational as well as professional ones) and keep a record of all the papers, notes and details.

Thanks for reading! If you got any value out of this, I’d really appreciate if you share it.

Karin Schroeck-Singh is a passionate Public Speaker, eBook Author, a Career Blogger at and a freelancing Online Content Producer. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 18 years of international work experience in Italy, the UK and India.
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