Checking the work references of candidates used to be second nature as part of what we do in recruitment, but in some circles it has been suggested it’s a thing of the past. We ask four experts their thoughts on reference checking, and their opinions are as varied as the answers you may receive when you call a referee.
Checking references has been a traditional cornerstone of what recruiters do, as we seek to confirm the information candidates are offering and to investigate what kind of an employee they are.
However, in the rush to secure talent during the current widespread skills shortages, some recruiters and clients are happy to skip the reference checks and move straight to a job offer.
But this is not always the wisest move and reference checks are a quick way to clarify or verify candidates you may feel unsure of.
One of our experts argues taking the time to check references is an important investment for small business, while another says it all boils down to what questions are asked.
Here are their thoughts.
Director at Inspire HQ
Reference checks are incredibly important and, contrary to the common opinion, “nobody ever puts down someone that will give them a bad reference”; it is surprising how many referees don’t give glowing references.
The purpose of reference checking isn’t for the referee to tell you if the candidate will be successful. I think this is where people lose sight of the value of the reference check because the referee says the candidate was great and you hire them, then they turn out not to be great. Was the referee lying? Or did you ask the wrong questions?
Reference checking is valuable when we ask the right type of questions and speak with the right person. Preparing specific and relevant questions and understanding what information you want to gather from doing the reference check is key.
The purpose is to substantiate what you have read in a resume and what you have observed and heard in an interview.
The focus should be to gain insight in to the person, their work style, what comes naturally to them and what doesn’t, where they may need support and to then piece that information together with the role you are considering them for.
I have observed individuals who has been successful in a particular industry, yet when they have changed jobs and gone to a competitor – into the exact same role in the same industry – they have failed miserably.
Conducting a detailed reference check would highlight if this person has been an excellent employee.
What should also be questioned is what support structure was in place to help that person succeed? What were the processes and systems they needed around them to achieve success? If there is a major gap in what you can offer, you need to weigh up if this person will be able to succeed in the new environment.
Speaking to the right referee is crucial. Don’t hesitate to question who the referees are and suggest to the candidate the referees you’d like to speak. If they really want the job they will track down the manager referee they have lost contact with or, if they are evasive, it could be a red flag.