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 reference check is traditionally used after a candidate has been interviewed and shortlisted for a role, and provides comprehensive, unbiased feedback from a previous employer.
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 probe further into any potential strengths or weaknesses.
A reference can also shine a light on the candidates who may not perform so well during interviews but are in fact, great employees. And conversely, they can identify candidates who may have the gift of the gab but lack the skills required for the role.
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 a 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.
The Five Stages of Successful Reference Checking
Regardless of when you ask for references, there are five stages that make up any thorough reference checking process.
The first stage focuses on the referee and includes questions designed to help you establish who they are and their relationship to the candidate. The next three stages focus on gathering information that will help you fact-check against a CV and establish a candidate’s cultural fit and suitability for the role. The fifth and final stage is all about making sure the referee is willing to be contacted again if you have any follow up questions.
1. Understand the referee
You need to understand 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.
Questions should include:
What is your relationship to the candidate? Did they report directly to you?
How long have you known the candidate? And what is your job title?
2. Understand the candidate
Job-hungry candidates can be prone to a little exaggeration. So you must confirm that the information on their CV is accurate.
Questions should focus on specifics of the role and include:
What was the candidate’s previous or current job title, responsibilities, remuneration and dates of employment?
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 actually perform in your business.
Some potential questions to gauge this include:
Can you describe the candidate’s overall performance?
Can you identify any core competencies? (e.g. communication skills, honesty and integrity, timekeeping and attendance) OR Are there any areas of improvement the candidate should focus on?
4. Understand the candidate’s previous role
Understanding why and when a candidate left a previous role can offer a new employer some insight into what kind of loyalty and length of service they should expect.
Hearing the referee’s perspective on the value the individual brought to their organisation can either validate the claims made in a CV or give you a reason to question or challenge them.
These are the two most important questions at this stage:
Why did the candidate leave your organisation?
Would you re-employ the candidate? Please explain why.
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 of the standard questionnaire. This final phase also offers the opportunity to ask the referee if they are happy to be contacted at a later date.
To clarify any uncertainties or ask additional questions.
Are there any other comments you’d like to make on this candidate’s suitability for the role?
Are you happy to be contacted again to clarify the references you’ve given?
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.
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 >>
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What is Xref?
Xref is a secure, mobile-friendly reference checking platform that significantly reduces time-to-hire and helps protect against candidate fraud.