8 min read

Online Reference Checks vs. Traditional Reference Checks: Pros and Cons

As a recruiter or HR pro, you know how important it is to thoroughly check a candidate's background before hiring them. But what's the best way to do reference checks these days - should you stick to traditional methods or try modern online options? Let's explore the pros and cons to help you decide.

What Are Traditional Reference Checks?

The old-school way of doing reference checks involves directly calling or meeting up with a candidate's former employers, managers, professors etc. You get to actually speak with the references and ask them lots of questions to really understand how the candidate performed in previous roles.

The awesome thing about traditional checks is the personal touch. You can have in-depth conversations to get honest, nuanced feedback and insights into the candidate's strengths, weaknesses, work ethic, and overall fit for your company.

But there's a downside too. Setting up all those calls and meetings takes a ton of time and can really slow down your hiring process. After all, you and the references have to go back-and-forth finding mutually convenient times. Clarifying misspoken words, asking follow-ups, it all adds up.

What Are Online Reference Checks?

Online reference checking uses digital platforms, software, or websites to gather feedback on candidates. You send out standardized questionnaires to the references, and they submit their responses virtually. Convenient, right?

One of the biggest benefits is speed. No more endless scheduling headaches - just send out the forms and get the info you need lightning fast. This efficiency helps you accelerate your hiring timelines.

Additionally, the standardized format ensures you get apples-to-apples feedback on all candidates based on the same set of questions. No more forgetting to ask that one important query.

However, the limitation here is the lack of personal interaction. You can't spontaneously ask follow-ups or read body language cues. Some nuance and context may get lost when everything is online and impersonal.

Comparing the Two Approaches

To sum it up, online reference checks prioritize speed and standardization, while traditional ones allow for richer context and personal connections. Let's do a side-by-side comparison:

Online Reference Checks vs. Traditional Reference Checks

Accuracy of Feedback:

  • Online: Standardizes questions across candidates for consistency
  • Traditional: Free-flowing conversations reveal detailed insights

Speed of Process:

  • Online: Lightning fast, no scheduling hassles
  • Traditional: Time-consuming due to coordinating calls/meetings

Building Personal Connections:

  • Online: Virtually no personal rapport or relationship building
  • Traditional: Direct interactions foster rapport and trust

Cost to Company:

  • Online: Affordable, cost-efficient reference check software and subscriptions
  • Traditional: Higher costs for staff time coordinating everything

As you analyze this comparison, think about what's most important for your hiring needs when bringing employees on board. Is getting feedback quickly the priority, or do you value deeper personal insights above all else? There's no universally correct answer - it depends on your specific goals.

Practical Tips for Using Reference Checks Effectively

Whichever route you choose, keep these practical tips in mind:

Ensure Legal Compliance: Both online and traditional methods must comply with all relevant laws around data privacy, discrimination, consent and more. Don't risk lawsuits!

Look at the Cost Factor: While online checks are generally more affordable with just software/subscription costs, traditional methods require budgeting for tons of staff time. Know your numbers.

Use a Hybrid Approach: You can actually combine both methods! For example, do a first round online to rapidly narrow the candidate pool, followed by traditional checks for your top finalists.

Verify Accuracy of Information: Whether online or offline feedback, always confirm facts like employment dates, job titles etc. That data could be incorrect or embellished.

Train Your Team: Make sure your recruiting team understands how to properly conduct reference checks without introducing bias, asking discriminatory questions etc.

The Future of Reference Checking

As technology keeps advancing, we can expect even more innovative approaches to reference checking in the coming years, such as:

AI-Assisted Checks: Artificial intelligence could automatically analyze reference feedback, pick up on coded language and sentiment, and provide insights while reducing human bias.

Virtual Reality Simulations: Instead of just submitting comments, what if references could actually "re-experience" working with the candidate through VR simulations and provide assessments based on those?

Blockchain Verifications: Blockchain tech could make it easier to seamlessly verify credentials, employment histories and more reference data across companies.

Continuous Feedback Loops: Rather than just a one-time snapshot, companies may implement always-on feedback systems for regularly discussing performance with references.

As these new technologies emerge, the line between online and traditional methods will blur further. Recruiters and employers will need to stay on top of all the latest trends.


There you have it - a thorough breakdown of the key differences between online and traditional reference checking methods when hiring new employees. Both have unique strengths and considerations.

As a recruiter or HR professional, you'll need to carefully examine your priorities and decide which approach best suits your company's processes and culture. You may even opt for a hybrid strategy to get the best of both worlds.

No matter which methods you use, always conduct reference checks diligently and in compliance with all regulations. After all, making well-informed hiring decisions is critical for bringing passionate, high-potential candidates into your company.

By understanding all the pros and cons we covered here, you're already on your way to refining an effective reference checking process. Your new star employees are out there just waiting to be discovered! What are you waiting for?

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