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Asking The Right Questions for Employment Reference Checking

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Always ask the right reference check questions

In the excitement that follows finding the right candidate, employers often forget that the reference checking process is an integral recruitment tool. However, in order to gather the right insights and be sure that you are making the right hiring decision based on your reference check, it is vital to ensure that you ask the right questions.

When reference checks are conducted using traditional methods (such as by phone or email), it is difficult to guarantee the consistency of the questions asked with every check. Online reference checking software platforms ensure that you ask the right questions every time.

Why is it vital to ask the right questions?

There are a number of reasons why the reference check questions you ask are so important: 

  1. To ensure compliance - it is critical that you ask only the questions that are legally allowed. Often questioning can become unintentionally discriminatory, so ensuring that your questions are compliant it a crucial first step.
  2. To support the hiring decision - without the right questions, you cannot gather the insights you need to determine whether or not a candidate is suitable for the role.
  3. To identify development areas - with the right reference questions you will be better equipped to understand a candidate's full skill set, meaning that even if they do not tick every box on paper, you will have a clear indication of the areas they would benefit from additional training in.
  4. To uncover areas of opportunity - reference checks also enable you to highlight additional skills and capabailities that you weren't previouslt aware of, allowing you to factor these into the candidate's role when they join the business.
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Creating a great reference question is simple.

Is your reference check process flawless?

A lack of standardisation in employment reference checking leaves organisations open to risk. Getting the process right is critical to ensuring you get the best people through the door before they go elsewhere.

In order to determine if your reference checks are flawless, let's first have a look at what a flawless process would include: 

  • Consistent - the same questions asked for every reference taken for a role
  • Role-specific - reference questions are suitable for the position, level and industry
  • Compliant - all questions are compliant and pose no threat of regulatory breaches
  • Unbiased - if your references are going to help you chose between candidates, make sure the questions don't lean in favour of one over the other
  • Insightful - every question provides a valuable insight into the candidate's suitability
  • Convenient - reference feedback can be completed at any time and on any device
  • Efficient - final reference reports are returned quickly, causing minimal delays to the hiring process
  • Secure - all data shared during the reference checking process is securely collected, stored and managed

Traditional, manual reference checking processes present pitfalls in terms of governance, compliance and due diligence. In addition, the traditional manual reference checking process is time-consuming. While some candidates are willing to manipulate their applications to improve their chances of securing the job, the inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the employer’s reference checking processes could be limiting the success of their recruitment journey.

Do your reference checking questions follow best practices?

A great reference check template will include questions that follow a number of best practices:

1. Determine the relationship between candidate and referee

The questions asked must determine the relationship between the candidate and referee, help the employer understand the applicant and accurately assess the candidate’s prior performance. Once you know how the applicant and the referee are connected, you’ll be better able to judge how reliable and relevant the information they’re providing is and how it relates to their new role. (Useful examples of questions here)

Branded question about candidate and referee relationship

2. Verify details of previous role and performance

Verifying whether the applicant’s previous job title, responsibilities, remuneration and dates of employment are accurate will help employers understand the candidate. Asking a referee to describe the candidate’s overall employment performance, identify their core competencies or any areas that they should focus on and establish why they left their previous organisation will allow an accurate assessment of prior performance.

In some roles, verifying these details comes down to more than just understanding what a candidate is capable of. Organisations in the healthcare, aged care and NFP industries, for example, have a duty of care to the potentially vulnerable people they support. Ensuring that they hire the right staff is not just about performance but about validating that they are able and qualified to deliver the right level of care and service required.

Branded question about verifiying details about previous roles

3. Avoid discriminatory questions

With diversity and inclusion being so important in the workplace, it is also necessary to ensure the reference checking questions avoid discriminatory connotations. The conversational nature of a phone-based reference check can lead to discriminatory questions slipping into the mix. Having a standard set of questions that have been verified to ensure they are non-discriminatory is crucial to ensuring all candidates are given a fair chance of securing the role.

Branded question about not including discriminatory questions

4. Understand data compliance

It is important to understand the new regulations in different countries when it comes to the management of personal information of candidates. We have a good article here that talks about GDPR regulations. For reference checking data management, it is required to have written permission from the candidate to conduct and employment check or skills survey; regulations require a trackable process responsible for protecting personal data privacy.

Branded question about understanding compliance and data privacy

In summary

Choosing the right questions at the referencing stage can help you uncover hidden potential and make great hires. But first, your questionnaires must be carefully crafted to ensure you gather the best insights to infirm your hiring decisions.

Remember, for reference checking success, your question must be: 

  •  Role-specific - to give you the details you need about the candidate's experience in similar positions.
  •  Compliant - to avoid any potential regulatory breaches.
  •  Unbiased - to ensure all candidates are given an equal chance.
  •  Insightful - to enable you to make an informed hiring decision.

Xref can help you create a questionnaire that is compliant and effective, try our template questionnaire for free. Simply name the role, select your industry and choose the core competencies you are looking for then Template Builder will create a questionnaire tailored to the position. Since 2011, we’ve been consulting with businesses globally to build reference templates that include the right questions to help them uncover candidate potential and hire with confidence. Book a demo if you want to know more about Xref.

Reference questionnaires text with branded shapes

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