Best Practices You Need to Know for Conducting Reference Checks

Blog Post created by 1049487 on Jul 17, 2017

The reality is that the busier that people get, the more likely they will be to take shortcuts. The demands of our work frequently rob us of all free time. To expedite the hiring process, we sometimes look for ways to 'steal' time back. However, in an effort to save time in the short run, we will likely pay the price in the long run.

The HR function has several areas that are prone to employees taking shortcuts. The first such area is the reference check process for prospective new hires. Reference checks provide key data points in the determination of which candidate to hire. When properly executed, they are an invaluable tool.


However, the pressure to hire someone quickly can take its toll. No one wants to be viewed as an impediment to the hiring process. As such, many HR practitioners see little value in the reference check. They mistakenly believe, because of the associated risk of defamation claims, that most phone calls will elicit a 'name, rank, and serial number' response.


Here is what I know...If I am going to supply you with my professional references, I am going to provide the names of individuals (colleagues and supervisors) that I feel will most likely have good things to say about my character and work performance. And, as a professional, I am going to get pre-approval from those individuals to use them as a reference resource. Going in, I am fairly confident that they will be open to a real dialog with the individual checking the reference.


Best practice tips:


1. When you call references, use a form such as this Reference Check Guide. Perhaps most importantly, you need to dig into the prospective candidate's areas for improvement. I would preface that question with the following statement:


"We all have areas that we could improve upon. In order for me to submit this reference check to the hiring manager, I need at least one area of opportunity for this individual. Without that feedback, my supervisor will invalidate the results".


It is at that point that you can get them to come clean. Once they reveal the opportunity, using clarify questions to dig a little deeper.


2. Clearly communicate to the candidates that a successful reference check process is critical to their chances of being hired. That means the burden lies with the candidate to provide the proper references, and to ensure that references are responsive. If you are not able to connect with references, inform the candidate of the status. This approach allows the candidate to reach out and prod the references.


3. Set a standard for the minimum number of references by job level. For example, a manager role might require 2 former supervisors and 2 direct reports.


Should you have any questions about this topic, please contact me at Tom Sheehan.


Related content:


Reference Check Guide (TA-5)