Reference checking is an important part of the interviewing and hiring process, yet so many supervisors are unsure of either how to go about checking references, or why they should even take the time to check references on their job applicants.
When you have found your perfect job candidate, and you’re ready to hire, it’s understandable that you’d be ready to keep the hiring process moving forward and hire your job candidate as quickly as possible.
For some supervisors, this means checking just one “quick” reference, and for others it may mean going by your “gut” and skipping the reference check process altogether.
Checking references won’t give you an iron-clad guarantee that you’ve hired the perfect candidate, but it is one of the best ways to determine whether or not your candidate of choice has the skills, experience, and temperament that you need for the job that you are filling. It’s also a very important way to learn about any performance or behavioral issues with a potential candidate.
Four tips to think about prior to checking references:
1. Plan ahead and determine what it is that you need to know about the candidate. Keep in mind that the questions that you ask should focus on the candidates’ work experience and interpersonal skills.
2. Determine who is the best person to provide you with the reference information that you will need in order to make a final decision as to whether or not to hire a candidate. Do you really need to obtain a job reference from your candidate’s friend, a work colleague, or a former teacher if these individuals aren’t able to share any pertinent information about your candidate’s job performance?
A good rule of thumb is to always obtain references from at least 2 people who are in a position of authority over the person that you’re hiring. Insist on references from current or past supervisors who can speak to the person’s overall skill set and job performance as well as a reference that can speak to the candidates’ ability to work across departments, teams, or with various clients and customers.
3. How many references do you need?
I recommend obtaining a minimum of 2 business references and up to 4 references as appropriate. Two of the job references should be from the candidates’ current and past supervisor.
4. Ask permission to check references with your job applicant and be clear with the applicant as to what types of references that you will need.
Now that you’ve taken a few minutes to think about the references that you’ll need to make your hiring decision, you don’t want to leave it up to your job applicant to give you a list of references that may not be helpful to you.
Let your candidate know specifically with whom you’d like to speak to for a reference. If it’s the current supervisor, ask them to provide you with the reference contact information in writing. Always get permission to check references in writing.
Be transparent and let the candidate know how many references you will need to speak with before you can make a final decision, and when the candidate can expect to hear back from you.
It’s also a good idea let your job candidate know if they are a strong finalist for your job opening. You can then confirm with your candidate that your final hiring decision will be based on obtaining satisfactory references.
You’ll find that there are some candidates who will legitimately feel uncomfortable with your checking references with a current supervisor.
Show some empathy by letting the applicant know that you understand how uncomfortable they may feel, and that checking references is a normal and necessary part of the job interview process. Emphasize how important it will be to speak with a current supervisor before making a final decision.
Most applicants will give you permission to check with the current employer, especially if they know that they are part of the final candidate pool.
I can’t stress enough that whenever you are in the reference checking stage, that you emphasize with the candidate that any job offer is dependent on a strong” or “satisfactory” reference. If your candidates’ references aren’t as strong as you had hoped and you decide not to extend a job offer, at least they were notified prior to the reference check that a poor reference will disqualify them from further consideration.
You are not obligated to share the references that you received with applicants, and it is a best practice not to share any detail about the type of reference received; whether the reference was good or bad.
If you check a reference and find that the reference has changed your decision about hiring an applicant, you should be brief and state that you feel that that the job is not the right fit, (an accurate assessment if the candidate did not receive a good reference).
Whenever possible or practical, check in with your HR professional or, with an employment lawyer if you are unsure as to how to handle this type of situation.