What is a reference check?

A reference check is the process of verifying information about a candidate during the hiring process. It can be conducted via phone or email and allows an employer to make a more informed hiring decision before extending an offer.

When should you do a reference check?

When an employer is considering extending an offer to a candidate and they need additional sources of information before extending an offer a reference check occurs. These sources can include conversations with current and previous managers, co-workers and often include letters of recommendation, samples of work if applicable, verification of skill sets and educational background.

Think you’ve found the right candidate for the job?  Make sure to still conduct a reference check. Too many managers pass off reference checks to the HR department for a quick check, usually done by email, or if they’re too busy they skip them entirely.

Why put so much time and energy into the interview process and then skip this crucial step?

How do you conduct a reference check?

  1. When calling a reference first identify yourself, the company you’re with and the person that has listed them as a reference.
  2. Make sure it it’s a good time to have a brief discussion or if a call should be scheduled for a later time
  3. Let the reference know all answers will remain confidential
  4. Proceed to verify dates of employment, knowledge base, and skill sets.
  5. Describe the position you are hiring for and ask them if they feel they would be a fit for the role
  6. Make sure and give the reference time to answer each question and do not lead them to easy answers, have them answer directly.

Tips for checking references

The list includes: Inform candidates you check references, don’t delegate references checks, take detailed notes, conduct the reference check via phone, start off with easy questions, verify employment dates and review social media posts.

1. Inform the candidates upfront you check references.

Want an easy way to weed out candidates with poor references or problems to hide?  Be upfront about the reference check and you may find that your candidate list shrinks itself.  The people that you do interview will tend to be more accurate and honest during the interview process. Add this tip to your reference best practices.

2. Don’t delegate the reference check to someone else.

I know your day is busy and it may not seem like a big deal to delegate the reference check to HR, but it could be a huge mistake.  Only you know exactly what you are looking for in an employee and no one else will ask the same questions that you would.  It could be a casual remark made about the candidate that may reveal something that clashes with your companies’ culture.   Something you would have missed had someone else been conducting the reference check.

3. Make sure and take detailed notes.

When speaking with a candidate’s former managers it is important to take detailed notes of the conversation especially if you are talking to multiple managers for multiple candidates. You never know when you might need to refer back your notes when evaluating the candidate for a potential hire. Conduct at least 2 reference checks from the most recent managers/supervisors of the candidate. If one reference is great and you get a mixed review on the other one it is best to get a third reference before making a final decision.

4. Conduct the reference checks by phone.

Pick up the phone when conducting reference checks.  You miss out on tone and inflection when using email and can easily misinterpret content.  Enthusiasm is difficult to distinguish and you can’t hear hesitation to an answer by reading the response through email.

5. Start off with easy questions.

Warm up with some easy questions (“How long did you work together”) before diving in.  Always pay attention to your wording.  Rather than asking “What do you feel are Carla’s biggest weaknesses?” you could ask “What do you feel Carla needs to do to further her career?”  Word questions in a positive way rather than trying to sniff out problems.

Also beware of fake references make sure that the reference you are checking is with the manager and not merely a coworker. To make things go more smoothly have a set of questions written down that you wish to ask the manager.

6. Verify employment dates

Make sure employment dates listed on the resume are the correct dates when you verify them with the manager. We often talk to candidates who say they worked at their last company for 2 years when it was only 2 months. Sometimes the last position on a candidate’s resume will say 2017 to present for example when really that position ended in 2018 and it is currently 2020.

7. Review social media content/posts.

This is yet another sort of reference check. Checking any public Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, can show revealing information about the candidate.  Also check out their LinkedIn profile to look for resume discrepancies and recommendations. You can also check to see if they share any professional contacts as these may provide more references for you to check.

Make sure and take the time to do reference checks and don’t merely write them off as a nuisance.  You might learn the hard way that a few phone calls could make all the difference in selecting the right employee for your position.

Sample reference check questions

  1. How would you rate their work? 
  2. Were they dependable? Did they get to work on time?
  3. Did they complete the tasks and assignments given to them?
  4. Did they take direction well?
  5. Did they require a lot of supervision or work well independently?
  6. Why did they  leave the position?
  7. What are their strong points? 
  8. What are their weak points? 
  9. How did they get along with other people? 
  10. Would you rehire? yes or no  If no why not? 
  11. Would you like to add anything else about them?

If you do not have the time to sort through hundreds or thousands of resumes and need top, qualified, screened and reference checked talent contact the one of the best IT staffing agencies in Atlanta the industry insiders at Apollo Technical .

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