Whether at interview or offer stage, issuing reference requests can be a pretty unenjoyable process.

From collecting your candidate’s referee details, to chasing up requests and information, it’s generally a time-consuming and admin-heavy experience.

Thankfully, recruitment technology is your friend here!

In this guide, we’re going to explore how the tools within some Applicant Tracking Systems and recruitment CRMs can help you to manage your reference requests process more efficiently and cost-effectively. Let’s read on.

Manage candidate expectations

It’s key to manage your candidates’ expectations in terms of job references.

Be clear as to when you would typically request references – would it be at interview stage, or perhaps further down the line at conditional offer?

Similarly, manage expectations around what kind of referees you will be seeking – and what information you will be asking for. Is a factual reference from a current employer sufficient, or will you also require a character reference?

To save time further down the line, you may wish to collect referee information at the point of application, so you have it ready to use when the time comes.

Remember – your referee data must be processed and stored in line with the Data Protection Act (DPA). If you need a refresher on the DPA principles, head over to our Data Protection and in-house recruitment resources page.

It’s also important to take a candidate-centric approach because the reference request process may well be a nervous time for your candidates. Depending on their work history, experience or confidence, the idea of relying on an ex-employer’s reference to help them secure their new position may be an uncomfortable one.

So, inject some humanity into your candidate communications to reassure candidates. Accurate and good references are an essential part of the process (and particularly in certain roles and sectors), but you can still manage applicant’s expectations and help them to feel more comfortable. This could be through your tone of voice in candidate emails, for example, or the way you explain your reference processes at application, interview or job offer stage.

Steer clear of manual administration

Without the right technology, issuing reference requests to your candidates’ referees can be a significant drain on resources.

Let’s say you’re requesting two references about your potential new hire. One is a character reference, and one is an ex-employer.

First you have to ask your potential employee to provide you with their referee’s details. If this is done over email, you could have to open multiple email attachments or upload the information to your recruitment CRM or ATS (if you have one). There’s also a matter of security – ensuring that referee data can be processed and stored in line with Data Protection regulations.

Now once you have the details, it’s time to issue the reference request. Again, even if you have standard wording that you can send, it will still require effort to send template emails or a letter to each contact – or to phone them. And then the game of tennis ensues, where you try to get in touch to chase up an outstanding reference letter or to clarify details.

So, what’s the alternative?

Use technology to automate your job reference request requirements

With the right platform, such as an Applicant Tracking System, you should be able to streamline how you request and receive a potential new hire’s reference letter.

Hireserve ATS, for example, has an automated reference feature, which enables you to manage the end-to-end process online – securely, safely and quickly.

You can tailor different references for different jobs, to make sure that you are only collecting relevant and specific information. For example, roles with stringent safeguarding requirements will need an entirely different approach to references compared to an office-based IT position.

In this example, automated reference requests could be particularly valuable for public sector organisations, or any body which is recruiting for a wide range of roles.

In fact, one city council client once shared with us that they had saved £23,000 per annum using the Hireserve ATS reference requests feature and that it had ‘utterly revolutionised’ their experience.

With the flexible Hireserve ATS automated references feature, you can also configure different referee-types, again to ensure that your approach to references is as focused as possible to ensure only the most accurate and relevant information is received.

One of the key things to look out for when assessing reference collection technology is whether you can trigger requests and reminders. Powerful Applicant Tracking Systems, like Hireserve ATS, should enable you to do this. When a candidate reaches a certain ‘status’, such as ‘conditional offer received’, the system can automatically trigger a reference request.

Make it easy for your referees

Now we’ve focused on candidate experience, but it’s also important to make sure you can provide a good experience for your referees.

Using technology (like the Hireserve ATS automated reference requests feature) means that you can ask contacts, like your new hire’s former boss, for example, to complete a reference letter online using a simple digital form.

This, again, saves administration and time for your referees – and hopefully will mean they can return the completed reference more quickly, reducing your overall time-to-hire.

Using an online reference request form also ensures that you receive the information directly back into your ATS – and that it is in an appropriate format.

You can also contact references with personalised, branded email templates, which again can be sent automatically from your ATS.

Why are references so important?

Employment references, whether from a former boss, co-workers or a character reference, can be required for a variety of reasons.

In the most obvious sense, a bad reference may be a red flag and stop you from hiring a potentially unsuitable candidate. And, likewise, a good reference may reinforce that you’ve made the right decision about offering a role (or perhaps interviewing) your applicant.

But beyond that, what should you look for in a reference letter?

You may be seeking confirmation of particular skills or experience, especially if they are relevant to the role in question.

You may be trying to gain a sense of performance and any issues or advice that you may need to be aware of being making a new hire. Does a prospective employee need additional support with work like project management, for example, or struggle in certain situations. On the flipside, are they a high achiever, who’ll go far in their new place of work.

Whilst not a dealbreaker, this kind of information may help you to understand how you can support a new hire and help them to reach their potential in your organisation.

Simple fact-checking may be your leading purpose for requesting employment references. It could be to confirm gaps in employment, or to confirm that a person worked in consecutive roles when they said they had. Does their job title or other content on their resume or LinkedIn profile match their employment references?

And, of course, there is the safety issue too. Collecting reference requests for a new employee can be vital in terms of ensuring they have the right skills, experience and background to perform certain roles safely and legally.

Coupled with pre-employment checks, this is an essential part of your hiring process.

About the author

Joel Rowbottom

From candidate experience to flexible working, and from supporting graduates to ATS reports; Hannah's written it all over the years! Hannah has contributed to publications as diverse as The Guardian, UK Recruiter and University Business. She is also the wordsmith behind our whitepapers and guides, from GDPR to Employee Volunteering.