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Guide
8 min read

The Dos and Don'ts of Reference Checking

Reference checking is the process of verifying the accuracy of a job candidate's information and gaining insights into their skills, experience, and fit for the role by speaking with their previous employers or colleagues. It is an important part of the hiring process, and should be conducted in a respectful and professional manner. 

Reference checking is the process of verifying the information provided by job candidates and gaining insights into their skills, experience, and fit for the role by speaking with their previous employers, colleagues, or other professional references.

The purpose of reference checking is to verify the accuracy of the information provided by the candidate, such as their job titles, responsibilities, and employment dates, and to gain a better understanding of their work habits, strengths, and areas for improvement. Reference checking can also provide valuable insights into a candidate's fit for the role and the organization, helping you to make more informed hiring decisions.

Reference checking is typically done as part of the hiring process, after a candidate has been selected for an interview or after an offer has been made. It is important to obtain the candidate's permission before contacting their references and to ensure that the reference checking process is conducted in a professional and respectful manner. But, as with any other process, there are some dos and don’ts to ensure you get the most from reference: 

The Dos


Get consent

Get permission from the job candidate before contacting their references.  It is important to respect the candidate's privacy and give them the opportunity to prepare their references for your call.

Verify employment information 

Verify the job candidate's employment dates and job titles. This helps to ensure that you are speaking with the correct person and that the information provided is accurate.

Ask relevant questions

Do make sure to ask questions that are relevant to the role - this will ensure you get the most relevant information. Ask open-ended questions. This allows the reference to provide more detailed and candid feedback about the candidate's skills, experience, and work habits.

Consider perspectives

Consider the context of the reference's comments. It's important to consider the reference's perspective and the context in which they are providing their comments.

Keep the structure

It is generally a good idea to use the same set of questions for each reference check as part of a structured and consistent process. This helps to ensure that you are gathering comparable information from each reference and making fair and objective decisions about the candidate.

Ask follow-up questions

It is also important to be flexible and open to asking follow-up questions as needed based on the specific responses you receive, so you can clarify any discrepancies or inconsistencies. This can help you to get a more complete and nuanced understanding of the candidate's skills, experience, and fit for the role. Do double-check the sources to ensure you are getting accurate information.

Record for later review

Take notes or record the call during the reference check. It can be helpful to have a written or audio record of the reference's comments for later review.

The Don’ts


Don't rely solely on reference checks

Reference checks should be just one part of the hiring process. Other methods, such as interviews and assessments, can provide additional insights into a candidate's fit for the role.

Don't ask illegal or inappropriate questions

It is illegal to ask questions that relate to a candidate's protected characteristics, such as age, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Don't neglect to follow up on discrepancies

If you notice any discrepancies between the candidate's resume and the information provided by their references, it is important to follow up and clarify the issue.

Don't make assumptions 

It is important to avoid making assumptions when conducting reference checks and to ask questions in order to get to the bottom of any issues or concerns that may arise. Making assumptions can lead to incorrect conclusions and may result in a biased or incomplete understanding of the candidate.

Don't make a hiring decision based on a single reference

It is important to speak with multiple references to get a well-rounded understanding of the candidate's skills and experience.

Don't disregard negative feedback

Negative feedback can be valuable in understanding a candidate's weaknesses and how they might fit into your organization. It's important to consider all feedback, both positive and negative, in the context of the job and your organization's needs.

Don’t forget to thank the referee

It is important to thank the reference for their time and assistance when conducting a reference check. Taking the time to thank the referee shows appreciation for their willingness to help with the process and can help to maintain a positive relationship and may be beneficial in the future if you need to seek out additional references or recommendations.

Reference checking is the process of verifying the accuracy of a job candidate's information and gaining insights into their skills, experience, and fit for the role by speaking with their previous employers or colleagues. It is an important part of the hiring process, and should be conducted in a respectful and professional manner. 

There are a few dos and don’ts to remember such as getting the candidate's consent before contacting their references, verifying the candidate's employment information, staying flexible and following up on discrepancies, and double-checking the source of information. It is also important not to rely solely on reference checks and not to ask illegal or inappropriate questions. Finally, it is important to thank the referee for their time and assistance. 

By following the do’s and don’ts outlined in this article, you can ensure that your reference checks provide you with all the information you need to make a well-informed hiring decision.

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