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Reference Checking Tips

Checking professional references is an important part of the hiring process. The ultimate purpose of references is to help the employer determine if the prospective team member is right for the job and validate the person’s background and experience. Often, references are not given enough time and consideration. It is recommended that organizations evaluate their reference-checking program to ensure they are not overlooking one of the most important parts of the hiring process. Below is some reference checking tips.

The ultimate purpose of references is to help the employer determine if the prospective team member is right for the job and validate the person’s background and experience.

  1. Ask people to sign a waiver: this waiver will grant you permission to contact references and anyone else who might be familiar with the person’s past job performance. The waiver sheet should also provide space for the person to list work-related references, the relationship to the reference and all applicable contact information.
  2. Check at least three references: ask for and obtain multiple professional references. Multiple references allow the employer to look for consistency in comments and get a feel for how the person interacted with people at different levels in the organization. A professional reference is defined as a former supervisor, peer or subordinate (if interviewing for a management position).
  3. Ask about past job performance and accomplishments: past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Ask what set the person apart from others in regards to performance. Ask for specific examples of individual and team accomplishments. Describe some of the performance-based requirements of the position to the reference and their opinion on the person’s ability to achieve these objectives.
  4. Talk to references from within the last five years: a reference check should cover the most recent five years of work history. Most people will be hard pressed to remember the specifics of an individual’s past job performance outside of five years. In addition, people do mature and change over time, so talking to a reference from early on in a person’s career might not give you an accurate picture of their present capabilities.
  5. Verify all degrees and licenses: It is unfortunate that people misrepresent themselves on their resume. Don’t take a document or copy at face value. You should always call the state licensing board and university registrar’s office for confirmation and verification.
  6. Ask open ended questions during the reference: the goal of the reference is to learn as much about the person as possible and in order to do that you must engage the reference in discussion. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Ask questions that will require thought and bring out as much information as possible.
  7. If references won’t talk: if references refuse to talk or cite a company policy against providing information, put the burden on the prospective employee to come up with appropriate references who will talk or to convince reluctant references to open up. This should not be an issue if the references are expecting your call and the prospective employee has done their due diligence with their references. It is a good rule to ask the person, “Are these people prepared to speak about your past performance and experiences?”
  8. Areas to avoid: refrain from asking questions about age, race, sex, religion, marital status or national origin. These are categories protected by law, and have no bearing on the person’s ability to do the job.

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