Ah, references. They can be that little added oomph your candidate needs to get the job- It can also be the axe that puts them out the running. 


Many candidates offer references when you interview them. You may already have some if they applied online and your company requires they list a few. 


The reference check is a valuable way to check the validity of the claims made by the candidate in respect of experience and qualifications. It gives another point of view on their people skills and areas where personal development may be needed.


Up to the point of the reference check you only have the candidate providing you with information. Your assessment based on this information will determine whether you believe they can perform the role, however a reference check can confirm your impression or lead you to investigate further before making a job offer.


Good employees don't hesitate in providing names of people willing to provide references. They may not wish to use their current employers as some seekers don’t want them to now-now anyway-that they’re looking for another job. 


All reference checks require some interpretation. Some important things to listen for in a reference check are indicators of qualified experience and simply if they were a good employee. Most good candidates have references who will praise them. An honest reference will say if they had any opportunities and if they were able to overcome them. Remember, no one is perfect, and if they can over work on trouble areas then that’s a great sign. 


One of the most valuable questions in a reference check is: Would you re-employ this person? The obvious answer here is an unqualified yes. 


As recruitment has moved out of the Human Resources field to be delegated to managers there has been an alarming increase in dropping the reference check from the interview process, and you know, it really shouldn’t. 


A reference check takes only a few minutes and can save you months in performance management and dismissal processes. No matter how good the candidate appears to be, the reference check is a valuable tool that should be used for every selection process.


Do you find reference checks to beneficial? Why or why not?



Ty Abernethy is founder of ZuzuHire, a multimedia interviewing tool incorporating video, voice, essay and multiple-choice questions. He has a background in executive recruiting, and currently manages the finance/accounting recruiting division of Chase Professionals.

Views: 8246

Comment by Amber on March 17, 2011 at 2:49pm

Reference checks can definitely be a double edged sword. There are also many companies who will no longer allow any employees to provide any sort of references, directing all inquiries to HR or automated systems which will only verify specfic items like dates of employment, etc.

The candidates references they provide are likely only those who will have a positive response - I can't think why anyone would provide any that weren't! But if a recruiter or employer do call prior employers and get someone willing to talk about the candidate then the results are so variable that it takes a lot for the person doing the reference check to dig in, get the answers, and then interpert them.

Comment by Errol Forbes on March 17, 2011 at 6:23pm

The information which can be gained from an insightful reference can definitely be very useful. However, as Amber mentioned many companies are now reluctant to give out references which contain anything other than purely factual information (i.e. stating that he/she worked at their organisation from date x to date y).


This is mostly due to a fear of the legal risks created by providing a reference. Clearly, providing a negative reference raises the possibility of the candidate making a claim based on the negative comments being incorrect. However, even providing a glowing reference creates legal risks. This is because it is possible for the company using the reference to take legal action if, after employing the individual, they feel that the reference gave an overly positive impression of the candidate.


Given this situation, it is becoming harder for companies to formally obtain the kinds of useful information that a full reference can provide.

Comment by Ty Abernethy on March 18, 2011 at 10:40am

Amber & Errol, I agree completely. About half the time I check references I get pushed to HR who then tell me that all they can do is verify employment.  That's no help!  But candidates are partly to blame for this. I believe there is an art form to nurturing and selecting your references in advance.  You can't just work with someone for a few years and then expect a glowing reference when you've completely lost touch over the years.  You have to maintain relationships, so when you need something, they're there for you. 


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