Smart Hiring decisions: Maximising the value of reference checks in recruitment - EmployeeConnect HRIS
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Smart Hiring decisions: Maximising the value of reference checks in recruitment

Do you want to make an informed hiring decision? A reference check is an essential part of the recruitment process as it provides valuable information about a candidate’s past performance, work experience, skills, and more. It helps employers verify the accuracy of the information provided by the applicants, such as their employment history, job titles, and responsibilities. 

Moreover, reference checks provide important insights to employers that help them to assess whether the candidate is a good fit for the job and the organisation’s culture. Through these details, employers can reduce the risk of making a bad hire and improve retention by hiring the right candidates. In the current climate, employee retention and company culture are two pivotal aspects which are inherently affected by recruitment, therefore having quality talent management software is important as you work towards workforce management solutions. 

Preparing for Reference Checks 

Research shows that 92% of employers conduct background screening before hiring. Planning for reference checks helps establish a standardised process to ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly and consistently. It helps employers save time and resources by streamlining the process. Finding the right references is significant to acquire accurate insights. 

Here are some strategies for identifying the right people to speak to for reference checks:

Ask the candidate for references

One of the most straightforward ways to identify the right people for reference checks is to ask the candidate for references. The applicant would provide the names of former managers, colleagues, or other professionals who can speak to their work experience, skills, and character.

Contact the candidate’s professional network

Employers can contact the candidate’s professional network, such as coworkers, mentors, or industry associations, to identify potential references. These individuals can provide valuable insights into the candidate’s past work history.

Use social media and online resources

Employers can use social media and online resources like LinkedIn to identify the right references. Candidates may have connections with former managers or other professionals who can provide valuable information for a reference check.

Check with HR departments

HR departments may have policies or procedures in place for providing reference information. It helps to ensure that reference checks are conducted in a consistent and legally compliant manner. 

Tips for preparing the Right Questions to Ask

Preparing an effective list of questions for reference checks requires careful planning and consideration. Here’re some tips to help you prepare the right list of questions:

Be relevant

It’s important to ask specific questions that are relevant to the candidate’s work experience and the job requirements. For example, if you’re hiring for a customer service role, you might want to focus on questions related to communication skills, problem-solving ability, and teamwork.

Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are those that require more than a simple yes or no answer. These types of questions allow the reference to provide more detailed information and provide a complete picture of the candidate.

Use behavioural-based questions

Behavioural-based questions are designed to elicit specific examples of the candidate’s behaviour in past work situations. These types of questions can help you assess the candidate’s potential performance in the new role. For example, “Can you describe a time when the candidate had to work under a tight deadline?”

Conducting Reference checks

Conducting reference checks in a professional manner helps to protect the employer’s reputation. A poorly conducted reference check with inappropriate questions or biases can reflect poor management.

Additionally, the smooth conduct of the process helps maintain positive relationships with the candidate and their references. Let’s discuss some strategies for making the most of the reference check conversation.

Build rapport

Start the conversation by introducing yourself and explaining the purpose of the reference check. Try to build rapport with the reference by expressing appreciation for their time. Through this conversation, you can put them at ease and encourage them to share more information.

Ask the right questions

Ask the right questions that encourage the reference to provide detailed information about the candidate’s skills, experience, and work history. This can help you get a clear idea about the candidate’s personality.

Listen actively

Listen actively to the reference’s responses and ask follow-up questions to clarify and expand on their answers. Pay attention to the tone and demeanour of the reference to get a sense of their overall impression of the candidate.

Verify information

Verify the information provided by the candidate during the interview process. Ask the reference to confirm specific details about the candidate’s work experience, abilities, and responsibilities.

Probe for weaknesses

Don’t be afraid to ask the reference about the candidate’s weaknesses or areas for improvement. It helps you assess whether the candidate is the right fit for the job and identify any potential challenges.

Keep the conversation confidential

Ensure that the conversation remains confidential and that any information obtained is only used for the purpose of making a hiring decision.

Effective Questions to ask for Reference Check

  • Can you verify the candidate’s employment dates and job titles?
  • How would you describe the candidate’s work progress?
  • Did the candidate meet or exceed expectations in their role?
  • How did the candidate handle challenging situations or conflicts in the workplace?
  • How did the candidate handle feedback or constructive criticism?
  • What was the candidate’s biggest accomplishment in the role?
  • How did the candidate approach problem-solving and decision-making?

Evaluating the Information Gathered

Evaluating the information gathered in a reference check can help you make a more informed decision about the candidate. Through this, you can verify the accuracy of the candidate’s resume and interview responses and gain a complete understanding of their qualifications and abilities. 

When contrasting different candidates based on reference check data, here are some strategies you can use to make an informed decision:

Develop a common set of questions

It is important to ask all references the same set of questions to ensure fairness among all candidates. This will help you to evaluate each candidate based on the same criteria.

Look for patterns and trends

As you review the feedback from different references, look for patterns and trends in the information you receive.

Compare feedback to job requirements

Consider how the feedback you receive from references aligns with the requirements of the job. Look for candidates whose skills, experience, and work style are most closely aligned with the position.

Consider the source of the reference

Take into account the relationship of the reference to the candidate. For example, a former supervisor may be able to provide more detailed and relevant feedback than a coworker or personal reference.

Use a scoring system

Develop a scoring system to evaluate each candidate based on the review you receive from references. This can help you to objectively compare candidates and to identify any areas of concern or potential red flags.

How to address concerns arising from reference checks?

Research shows that 46% of the reference and credential verifications show discrepancies in the provided information by the candidate. If concerns arise from reference checks, here are some steps you can take to address them:

Follow up with the candidate

If there are any concerns that arise from the reference check, it is important to discuss them with the candidate. Be transparent about the feedback you received and allow the candidate to provide their perspective. This helps clarify any misunderstandings or address any issues that may have been raised.

Conduct additional reference checks

If you have concerns about a candidate based on the feedback from one or two references, consider conducting additional reference checks to gather more information. This can confirm or challenge the feedback you received and provide more comprehensive info on the candidate’s qualifications and abilities.

Consider the context

When evaluating the feedback from references, consider the context in which it was provided. For example, if a reference raises concerns about a candidate’s punctuality, consider whether this may have been an isolated incident or a pattern of behaviour.

Ensuring compliance with legal and ethical standards

When conducting reference checks, it is important to ensure that you abide by legal and ethical considerations to protect the privacy and rights of both the candidate and the reference. Here are some strategies for maintaining legal and ethical considerations during the reference check process:

Obtain written consent

Before conducting any reference check, obtain written consent from the candidate to contact their references. This consent should clearly state the purpose of the reference check and how the information will be used.

Be transparent

Inform the reference about the purpose of the reference check and the type of information you are seeking. Be clear about how the information will be used and who will have access to it.

Ask only job-related questions

Ask questions that are directly related to the candidate’s job performance and qualifications. Avoid asking personal questions or questions that could be considered discriminatory.

Maintain confidentiality

Keep all information obtained during the reference check process confidential and secure. Only share information with those who have a legitimate need to know.

Follow legal requirements

Follow all applicable laws and regulations related to reference checks, including data privacy laws and anti-discrimination laws.


In conclusion, conducting reference checks is an important part of the hiring process that can help employers verify a candidate’s qualifications, experience, and work history. However, it is crucial to maintain legal and ethical considerations during the reference check process to protect the privacy and rights of both the candidate and the reference.



Matthew Dedes