Reference checking is one tool in the selection process. It is a way of minimising risk to the organisation and should not be skipped. No matter how well someone has interviewed or how great the resume is, a reference check should always be conducted.
Reference checking allows us to get independent information about the candidate’s previous on the job performance. The questions asked should relate to the key selection criteria of the role they have applied for. Avoid closed questions that don’t give you any relevant information.
Example: Candidate has interviewed for a high-pressure hospitality role.
During the interview you asked this question:
“Give me an example of a time you worked under pressure. What was the situation and what did you do?”
In the reference check to verify you should ask the referee:
“How well did he/she work under pressure? Can you describe a particular situation which involved pressure? How did he/she respond?”
Specific questions relating to the skills required for the job are essential. Ask questions which check their performance, reliability, motivation and technical skills.
Reference checking also assists in identifying any gaps in the resume or areas that are unclear. Candidates are always asked why they have left certain roles during an interview. Reference checking allows you to either confirm (or not) these reasons with their referee.
Reference checks should be done verbally and always with a direct supervisor / manager. Always establish the working relationship prior to going through the reference check process. It is best practice to do more than one reference check.
Some tips for reference checking
• Always identify yourself and the name of the person you are reference checking and let the referee know how much time you will need for the reference check
• Ensure the referee understands the Privacy Act and that the candidate can access the referee report if requested – always have permission from the candidate to contact former employers
• Don’t put words in the referee’s mouth – let the referee give you their version of the candidate
• Be wary when a referee has nothing remotely negative to say about the candidate and is praising them endlessly – there is always room for improvement
• Take detailed notes when you are on the call so you can refer back to them later – using a “reference check form” can help you to keep track
• Always ask if the referee would re-hire the candidate. I recommend also asking whether it would be in the same role?
• Beware of non-authentic referees – it’s very simple to check whether the referee name you have been given is authentic. Check LinkedIn, call the landline / reception of the organisation and ask for them rather than calling a mobile number. Some candidates give out the names of their friends to provide references or the name of a colleague who may also be a friend
• Some companies do not give references for legal reasons and this is in no way linked to the performance of the candidate, it is simply company policy
• Be aware of overstepping legal boundaries when reference checking by avoiding offensive questions that could be considered discriminatory
• Social media should not replace a verbal reference check
Following a successful interview, reference checks can assist in selecting the most suitable applicant for the role.