Best Practices for Conducting Employment Reference Checks

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Checking references is an important part of the hiring process. They are used to confirm information provided in the resumé or job application, predict how candidates will perform if hired, and find out any additional information that may be relevant. This helps the employer select the best candidate for the job.

Checking references is not as simple as it once was. Here are a few tips that you can use to make the process effective.

Only Ask for References for Your Short List

Reference checks are best conducted when the number of applicants has been narrowed down. It is an energy- and time-intensive process, and checks should only be conducted on the applicants that employers feel strongly about. This final stage can also help an employer choose between two candidates who are identical on paper.

Get Consent from a Candidate Before Checking References

Ask candidates for explicit permission to contact their provided references or use language in the job application that makes it clear that references will be contacted and provided information will be verified.

Ask Questions Directly Related to the Position

Verify information such as dates of employment and position held. Check with local and state laws before asking about the candidate’s pay history.

You may ask questions to help you determine the applicant’s experience and ability to thrive in the position. However, many previous employers may hesitate to provide any subjective information, as they are wary of lawsuits from employees who get poor reviews.  

Finally, be respectful of the previous employer’s time by keeping your interaction brief.

Handle Sensitive Information Carefully

Information provided by a referee is difficult to confirm and could be skewed for a number of reasons. Candidates tend to list references who will say good things about them. But, it’s also possible the reference is having a bad day or does not want the candidate’s career to progress. The process is based on word of mouth, so use your best judgment and acknowledge that opinions are not absolute truth.

If a referee provides sensitive information, such as the use of protected leave or the applicant’s age, family status, or ethnicity, you must disregard it when making your decision.

Keep a Written Record

Keep a record of the information you obtain during a reference check. Include the date of the interaction, the name and position of the person you spoke with, and any legal information obtained regarding the candidate.

Create a Company Policy

Create a company policy that outlines your approved process for checking references. Commit to thoroughly training hiring managers in the policy.  This ensures all prospective employees are treated equally and in accordance with federal, state, and local laws. 

Checking references is a good way to verify information about applicants and confirm their experience and ability to fit in the position for which they’ve applied. By following these best practices, you’ll have another tool in your toolbox for finding and retaining remarkable employees.

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