Reference checking candidates… do you actually do it?

Do you believe what a candidate says in the application process or do you contact referees to verify this information? We know a number of employers out there that do and also a number that don’t. In short, the answer is that you should conduct reference checks.

Do you ever get a bad reference from a referee?

YES!!! We have had some really poor reference checks in the past; however, more than 80% of referee checks turn out to be positive. Sometimes we pick up areas that a candidate may need improvement but overall they are quite good. Reference checking is definitely worth it if you have the right questions to ask the referee and you receive a range of answers that fit in with what you are seeking. If not, don’t waste the phone call or email.

There are a number of good reasons to conduct referee checks and here is what you can find out:

  • Whether a candidate actually worked at a previous employer and their job title – the candidate’s actual job as an “Administration Assistant” is very different to their perception as the “Office Manager” – we actually see this quite often!
  • The referee’s understanding of why the person left or is leaving
  • Verification of wage / salary / employment tenure / attendance record (sometimes, due to privacy all of these details may not be verified) – did the candidate tell you that they were on $75,000 when they were really on $60,000? It happens!
  • The actual tasks performed by the person in the role and their competencies
  • Verification of what part the person played in large projects or initiatives – did they lead the project, do a large or small part of it, and was it their idea – the candidate’s recollection of their role in this may be very different to the referee’s
  • Relationships – did they work well with clients, other staff and supervisors?
  • Strengths, performance and developmental areas
  • Attitude to work and personal attributes
  • Would they re-hire this person – sometimes this is all that you need to know about how they feel about them!

Written references

We often receive written references however they often don’t tell us a lot. We like to have the conversation and use a written reference to compliment other information that we receive during the phone call based on what we need to know.

We always reference check a candidate with a tailor-made form with specific questions about the candidate. We focus on the areas outlined above to draw a picture of how the candidate performed in the previous role(s) to assess future performance for our client. You can also create a form to keep on file and modify each time that you recruit a new staff member.

I am a referee – what should I say / not say?

As a referee it is your responsibility to be truthful in what you say. Sometimes we contact people that are unaware that they are a referee – they have not been asked and it was assumed by the candidate that it would be ok. If you feel uncomfortable about the legalities of saying something bad work by the rule that if you have nothing good to say about the person, respond with “I would prefer not to comment on that” and leave it at that. Verify details about the person’s employment if requested but don’t delve any further. The person calling you should get the picture and cease the referee check.

Reference checks are certainly worth it and offer you a better insight into a candidate than just your interview and perception of who they are.

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