Tips for Effective Reference Checks

Congratulations on finding a suitable candidate to join your team! You have probably spent a good deal of time and effort sorting through candidates and conducting interviews. And now that you’ve found the right one, you might be tempted to skip the last step: reference checks. But reference checks are an integral part of the hiring process! They can provide you with the following information:

  • Reasons for leaving previous employers
  • Eligibility for re-hire
  • Integrity
  • Communication, teamwork and organizational skills
  • Overall strengths and weaknesses

Oftentimes, reference checks provide additional insights into candidates that you just can’t get during an interview. They are definitely not a step in the process to skip!

Here are some ways to get the most value from your reference checks:

  1. Notify candidates. Let candidates know (either before or during an interview) that reference checks are a part of the hiring process, and that they should expect calls to be made. Then protect yourself from potential liability down the road by having candidates sign a consent form for contacting their professional references.
  2. Be chatty with references. Avoid yes or no questions with references, and instead be chatty. Ask open-ended questions like, “Can you name some of this person’s specific strengths?”  You’ll also want to verify the basics, including dates of employment and other basic information, but you’ll get the most value out of open-ended questions.
  3. Be careful. Be sure to avoid discussing any personal information about a candidate, as any information protected by federal law can open you up to legal liability. This is a somewhat obvious tip; however, it can be easy to slip into a personal-type conversation while talking with a reference. Be sure to pay attention to the conversation, and the information being discussed.

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