11 tips for reference checks
1. Beware of the over-embellished and super impressive resume. Never take anything at face value.
If a resume seems too good to be true, it probably is. It’s easy for a candidate to tailor or embellish their experience to fit a particular role and make their experience look impressive.
No matter how amazing a candidate may appear on paper, and regardless of how impressive they may have been when you interviewed them, still undertake the reference checking process.
2. Request a minimum of two referees. Obtain the candidate’s permission prior to contact.
Interviewing more than one referee allows you to see any emerging patterns. Although the candidate has supplied names and contact details of referees, seek permission before proceeding with checks.
3. Have a standardised process in place.
What you do for one candidate you need to do for all candidates.
4. Speak with current or previous managers where possible.
They will have recent interactions with the candidate and can draw on examples.
5. Cross-reference all the information you are building. Take a risk management approach.
Is there anything that doesn't add up? Be alert for any red flags. Your goal is to limit the negative impacts a wrong hire could have on your business.
6. Prioritise the cultural fit for your organisation.
Workplace culture is important. Consider the team dynamics and how the candidate will fit in. You can always train for new skills or skill gaps.
7. Don’t ask for information that could be considered discriminatory.
Know the law in relation to the corresponding privacy laws and regulations surrounding reference and background checks.
8. Listen carefully to what the referee is saying - have they omitted anything?
Any omission could be intentional if it's an area where your candidate doesn’t excel, has a weakness or has experienced issues.
9. Ask open-ended questions, not leading questions.
It's best to ask the referee to comment on or rate on a scale of one to 10, otherwise you will get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, which give you little insight. If you want more detailed information, ask for a specific example. Ask similar questions you asked the candidate. One good question is 'why they left the business'? See if the answers align.
Questions around time management, decision-making, communication, integrity and initiative will give you good insights.
10. A must-ask question and one that speaks volumes is “Would you employ this candidate again?”
If conducting verbal checks, listen for any hesitation or on the other hand, if the referee appears to be exaggerating. It can be an indicator that the truth is being stretched.
11. Establish if there are any inconsistencies.
The information you gather during a reference check should be directly related to the key selection criteria of the role or job description. The reference checks allow you to validate the information provided by the candidate at the interview.