You have found a promising candidate for that sought-after open position at your company! And you are ready to hire. But before you go about making a hasty personnel decision — which can be costly for any business, if things don’t work out — it’s time to use reference check best practices to ensure you make the best hire.
Conducting a reference check to obtain, verify, and contextualize information about a potential new hire is an essential part of the recruiting process. In this stage you will gain pertinent insight into a candidate’s performance history, skills and achievements, areas for growth, and potential risk factors. Performing this innocuous but all-important step enables recruiters and hiring managers to choose top-quality candidates with confidence.
In this article you will find models and advice for reference check best practices to follow when checking up on your next promising candidate.
Reference Check Best Practices Start in the Interview
The first best practice for any reference check should be to ask your interviewee what they think their former boss or supervisor will say about them. This will give you a great idea not only of which questions to ask their reference when you call, but of your candidate’s attitude toward their former place of employment, which can be telling.
Begin this point by mentioning that you do indeed perform reference checks — doing so will inspire the candidate to be as truthful as possible during this portion of the interview. Continue with the question: “What is your former employer likely to say about you when I speak to them?” Or, “What do you believe your former employer will say are your greatest strengths? Your areas for improvement?” You may then lead with their answer upon your conversation with past employers.
Best Practices Start By Asking the Right Questions
Once you have gotten through to your candidate’s referee, make sure to describe the job for which you are hiring to give them ample context to your questions. Try to ask specific, open-ended questions. Avoid asking those which are too broad, or might be construed as discriminatory: any inquiries relating to age, race, sex, gender, orientation, or religion may not be asked.
Not sure how many references are enough? Find out, based on our research: The magic number for checking references >
Here are five sample reference check questions to get you started:
- What were the candidate’s primary responsibilities at your company?
Beginning with the basics, this question will help you understand and validate the specifics of your candidate’s prior experience and environment.
- How would you rate the candidate’s reliability and dependability?
Many employers expect a candidate’s ability to arrive to work on time, complete projects, and meet deadlines to be a given. However this make-or-break baseline dependability is a factor worth checking.
- What are the candidate’s greatest strengths? Their greatest weaknesses?
You will probably ask the candidate themself to rate their strengths and weaknesses during their interview. Comparing their answer to that of the referee will allow you to discern additional information, such as how self-aware a candidate may be, or how well they listen to criticism and feedback.
- What additional skills and training could the candidate benefit from?
Asking this question will assist you in identifying gaps in the candidate’s experience. It is rare for an interviewee to come equipped with every ability on your checklist, however if they are missing too much training, experience, or tools, you may decide to move on to another more qualified applicant. Tip: Implement pre-hire assessments to objectively and quickly assess candidate skills, traits, and job knowledge.
- Would you hire this candidate again?
Even a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer will give you plenty of information to identify whether the candidate is a safe and worthwhile hire.
- Is there anything else you think I should know about this candidate?
This open-ended question leaves ample room for a reference to provide at least a hint of any challenges or issues with the employee.
Look Out for Red Flags
Interviewers should always be on the lookout for any alerts which may come up in a reference check:
- Negative feedback should be taken seriously, but it merits further investigation. Ask probing questions to discover why this feedback is being given, and whether it is in fact deserved. It may necessitate contacting other references to verify or absolve any negative comments.
- Facts-only answers, such as merely confirming employee, company name, and dates of employment, may indicate simply a company with bare-bones references policies, or it could mean a dissatisfactory work history. In this case, you may rely on straightforward yes-or-no questions (such as #5 in the above list) to get the information you need.
- Inconsistencies between information given by a candidate and by a referee should set off alarm bells. Continue to ask clarifying questions to ensure you are not misinterpreting information given by a reference. It may become necessary to ask a candidate to explain any discrepancies, if the reference is still positive.
Best Practices Use Trusted Reference Check Solutions
Asking the right questions is key, but what if you don’t get detailed, honest answers? Reference checks conducted by phone can sometimes bring you general answers or biased feedback. By using a digital reference check solution, references are able to rate the candidate, and often leave much more detailed feedback. This information can be paramount in ensuring sure you make the right hire.
Harver Reference is our modernized solution for reference checking. It helps you hire the right staff on the first try by automating the process to save everyone time, gather more references per check, and even convert references into passive candidates.
All you have to do is create a reference-check survey, and then invite your candidate with just their name and email. It takes just 2 minutes of recruiter time to get the process started. The candidate will then invite their own references to complete your survey. Because references received the invite from their connection directly, they are more likely to respond. In fact, Harver Reference sees an average of 6-8 reference responses per candidate checked. Our automated reference checking solution then automatically analyzes data from these multiple references, instantly providing you with actionable feedback and reports.