Hiring the right candidate is crucial for the success of any organisation, and the reference check process plays a pivotal role in making informed hiring decisions. Reference checks provide valuable insights into a candidate’s work history, skills, and character, helping recruiters and hiring managers gauge the potential fit for the role and the company culture.

However, conducting effective reference checks requires a delicate balance of professionalism, respect, and thoroughness. In this article, we will explore the dos and don’ts of reference checks to ensure that recruiters extract the most accurate and insightful information while respecting the privacy of all parties involved.

The Dos of Reference Checking

Prepare in Advance

Before initiating reference checks, thoroughly review the candidate’s application, resume, and interview performance. This will help you craft targeted questions that focus on the candidate’s skills, work ethic, and potential areas of concern.

Request Permission

Always obtain the candidate’s consent before contacting their references. Not only is this a matter of professional courtesy, but it also ensures compliance with privacy regulations.

Plan Thoughtful Questions

Develop a set of open-ended questions that encourage references to provide detailed and specific responses. Ask about the candidate’s strengths, areas for improvement, working style, and contributions to the team.

Contact Multiple References

Ideally, speak with a mix of supervisors, colleagues, and direct reports to gain a well-rounded perspective of the candidate’s abilities and interpersonal skills.

Maintain Confidentiality

Assure both the candidate and the references that the information shared during the reference check will be kept confidential and used solely for the hiring decision.

Build Rapport

Begin the reference call by introducing yourself and explaining your role. Establishing a professional and respectful rapport can encourage references to share honest insights.

Listen Actively

Pay close attention to the responses provided by references. Take notes and ask follow-up questions to delve deeper into specific areas of interest.

Verify Information

Use the reference check to confirm the accuracy of the candidate’s claims, such as job titles, responsibilities, and employment dates.

Stay Objective

Focus on gathering objective information that relates to the candidate’s qualifications for the role. Avoid discussing personal biases or irrelevant topics.

The Don’ts of Reference Checking

Alot of these are applicable to your interview process too!

Don’t Rely Solely on References

While references are valuable, they are just one piece of the hiring puzzle. Consider combining the insights from reference checks on your job candidate with other assessment methods, such as interviews and skills tests.

Don’t Skip Reference Checks

Even if a candidate appears to be an exceptional fit, the reference checking process can uncover hidden strengths or potential concerns from previous employers that might not be apparent from the interview alone. Therefore checking references is not a step you should miss in your recruitment process.

Don’t Lead Witnesses

Avoid framing your reference check questions with previous employers in a way that prompts references to give specific answers. Maintain neutrality to ensure the accuracy of the information you receive when checking references.

Don’t Overstep Boundaries

Respect the reference’s time and willingness to participate. Keep the conversation focused and concise. Just as you focus on the experience of a job candidate during an interview process, holding on to this same mindset here is important.

Don’t Disregard Red Flags

If references raise concerns about the candidate’s performance or behavior, take these remarks seriously and consider them in the broader context of your assessment. One of the main point of reference checking is to allow opportunity to identify any issues with a candidate.

Don’t Neglect Legalities

Be aware of the legal and privacy implications of conducting reference checks. Adhere to relevant laws and regulations, such as data protection rules, just as you would during an interview process.

Don’t Rush Through the Process

Reference checking require time and attention. Rushing through the process may lead to incomplete information or missed opportunities to gain valuable insights. A thorough reference check can give indicators of a candidate’s soft skills which may be a great asset to your organisation, or raise concerns about a job candidate which you’ll want to investigate further.

In conclusion, effective reference checks are an integral part of the hiring process, enabling recruiters to make well-informed decisions about potential candidates. By following these dos and don’ts, recruiters can ensure a respectful, insightful, and compliant reference check process that contributes to successful hiring outcomes and the overall growth of the organisation. Recruiters and HR should absolutely reference check in recruitment process.

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.