You may not consider Mad Men’s Don Draper to have any wisdom that applies to recruitment, but trust this one-liner from the advertising saga:
‘People tell you who they are, but we ignore it – because we want them to be who we want them to be.’
Bias, unconscious or not, is one of the key reasons why it is important to not only conduct employment reference checks but ensure you ask the right questions when you do.
Why Conduct Reference Checks?
A resume will give you an idea of career achievements and qualifications, while an interview will help you to get to know a candidate in person.
A reference check acts as the source of truth, allowing you to verify what you’ve been told and help you explore any potential strengths or weaknesses.
When Should You Request a Reference Check?
The best time to conduct a reference may depend on the industry you are in. If you’re working in an environment with high staff turnover and a focus on lower-skilled, entry-level jobs, for example, you could conduct references as part of the application process. This helps to filter candidates before investing too much time interviewing. Alternatively, for professional, higher-skilled positions, references are usually requested once a job offer has been verbally accepted.
You should always let candidates know when you plan to request a reference so they can advise their referees. Anxiety is usually high at this stage in the recruitment process so it helps to let candidates know how long the reference checking process may take. When using automated reference checks, the average turnaround time can be reduced to as little as 24 hours.
Five Essential Elements of a Successful Reference Check
Depending on the role you are hiring for, you may be looking for someone with particular soft-skills or specific technical capabilities. But whatever the position, there are five key elements that will improve the outcome of any thorough reference checking process.
1. Understand the candidate/referee relationship
You need to get a clear understanding of the relationship between the candidate and the referee, so you can judge the reliability and relevance of their feedback and how it relates to the candidate’s potential new role.
Request details to verify:
- When they worked together and in what capacity.
- The nature of their relationship and the reporting line.
2. Verify the role and employment details
Job-hungry candidates can be prone to a little exaggeration. So, you must confirm that the information on their CV is accurate.
Explore areas such as:
- The candidate's job title and role.
- Their general duties and responsibilities.
3. Assess the candidate’s previous performance
A CV can be tailored to fit a role but it’s only when you ask a previous employer for their perspective on a candidate that you can really assess their skills and how well they might perform in your business.
Ask questions that will:
- Reveal the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Uncover potential areas for improvement.
4. Confirm the candidate’s reasons for leaving
Understanding why and when a candidate left a previous role can offer a new employer some insight into the lasting impression they’ve left with a previous employer.
Consider questions that confirm:
- The reason (if known) why the candidate left.
- Whether the reference provider would hire them again.
5. Seek additional information & confirm the referee’s responses
It’s important to give the referee an opportunity to provide any further information they feel is relevant but falls outside the questions you ask. This final phase also offers the opportunity to ask the referee if they are happy to be contacted at a later date.
Take the opportunity to:
- Ask for any further comments.
- Confirm if the reference provider is happy to be contacted again for additional details.
When done well, reference checking can provide you with insightful and instructive data to help you identify strengths, training needs and weaknesses. It’s also essential in demonstrating your due diligence on a candidate and ensuring you make confident hiring or placement decisions.
Automated reference checking solutions, like Xref, streamline the process, reduce your time to hire and add a layer of security to your reference checks. Learn more about the Xref platform >>