Asking The Right Questions for Employment Reference Checking


When Checking References Asking the Right Questions is Vital

In the excitement that follows finding the right candidate, employers often forget that the reference checking process is an integral part of recruitment.

It is vital to ask the right questions during the reference checking process.

Why asking the right questions is vital in the hiring process?

  • It is crucial to be compliant
  • Only the right questions can assist you with the hiring decision.
  • It is also an important step to identify any potential areas of opportunity or training needs during their employment.
Creating a great reference question is simple.

Is your reference check process flawless?

Traditional, manual reference checking processes present pitfalls that are more evident if carried out by email and phone in terms of governance, compliance and due diligence. In addition, the traditional manual reference checking process is time-consuming.

In a study we conducted in 2017, we asked over 1,000 applicants aged 18 to 39, who applied for a job in the last two years, more than 70% admitted to taking advantage of flaws in the process to better their chances of landing a job.

Outdated methods have made it far too easy for candidates to position themselves favourably. Our survey also found job seekers were willing to go even further to improve their employment chances, by deliberately lying (42%) and asking referees to lie on their behalf (23%). The study revealed that most common way for applicants to mislead bosses is by providing the details of an inappropriate referee, asking someone they didn’t work closely with (11%), a friend (16%) or even a family member (11%).

Whilst some candidates are willing to manipulate their applications to improve their chances of securing the job, the inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the employer’s recruitment processes could be limiting the success of the reference checking process.

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.

Are you sure your reference checking questions follow best practices?

To follow reference checking best practices is crucial to ask only the right questions when conducting a skill survey or employment verification process.

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)

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.

However, if you only ask a referee a single question, it should be whether they would re-employ the candidate. These answers can tell you so much about how they were perceived and the quality of their work.

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. Inconsistencies and lack of experience driving the process led to biased and non-compliant surveys, 29% of those that had acted as a referee thought these questions were discriminatory. Topics covered in questionnaires included age (15%), whether the candidate has children (11%), their marital status (10%) and their sexual orientation (7%) are still high.

4. Understand 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.

Choosing the right questions at the referencing stage can help you uncover hidden potential and make great hires. But first, your questionnaires need to be:

  •  Role-specific
  •  Compliant
  •  Unbiased
  •  Insightful

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.

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