Unfortunately, not everyone is totally honest, so doing reference checks is an integral part of the selection process. References should be professional or educational, not personal.
You may wish to consider conducting reference checks before interviewing candidates, particularly if there are any red flags on the resumé, as discussed above. This can save a lot of time if references don’t check out. Several hours and considerable expense can be incurred in interviews, travel, etc. only to find afterward that someone’s employment track record is poor.
When conducting a reference check, ask about:
- The applicant’s past performance on the job
- Position(s) held
- Duties and responsibilities completed successfully (and how these align with your detailed job description)
- Dates of previous employment
- Why the applicant left the job
- Whether the applicant would be rehired
When conducting the reference, remember that you are representing your company. Act professionally and respect the time of the person you are talking to. Whenever possible speak to the candidate’s direct supervisor as that person will know the most about the candidate’s day-to-day work habits and skills.
Be sure to document all information supplied by the applicant’s references. It, along with the interviewers’ feedback and impressions, will be important in making the hiring decision. Ensure all feedback is kept confidential; do not share it with others.
One of the shortcomings of the reference check is that it can put the previous employer in a difficult position. If he or she tells you the applicant was unreliable, moody, and difficult to get along with, and if the applicant finds out about these comments, the previous employer could be in a vulnerable legal position. For this reason some organizations refuse to give references and will only confirm dates of employment and position held, a policy that can make selection more difficult because you are denied information about previous behaviour.
Sometimes you may have to settle for the last question: “Would you hire the applicant again?” A simple “yes” or “no” speaks volumes. Sometimes you may have to read between the lines by listening to vague answers, tone of voice, hesitation, or silence.
Since some companies give only an applicant’s job title and the period the person was employed, it’s important to request references from every employer the person has had. Chances are you will find some previous employer who will provide useful information. When assessing candidate resumés, check for former employers that the applicant does not have a reference for; employment and reference gaps are worthy of follow-up. See Appendix 4 for a template that you may wish to use when checking references.