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5 Steps For Perfecting Your Reference Checks

Posted by James Patrick Kahler on July 9, 2015

Do you enjoy a long game of phone tag or relish trying to track someone down after hours of time-consuming effort? If so, ignore this blog; but if you’re like the rest of, let’s say—the majority of people inhabiting this earth, then continue reading.

The hiring process can be lengthy in itself. There are numerous steps hiring managers must take before they can actually hire a candidate. Nevertheless, there’s one step of the process that can take the longest and therefore cause headaches: performing reference checks.


Why is this and what can be done to expedite this part of the hiring process?

First of all, the traditional way of checking references is outdated, yet is still used by majority of companies worldwide. Hiring managers continue to get the bulk of work when it comes to contacting and verifying candidates’ references, and this shouldn’t be the case. Why should the manager have to track down numerous references when they do not know any of them?

(If I have to contact a stranger on LinkedIn, I usually see if someone in my network knows that person. That way I know I’m more likely to get a response from the stranger if my contact can give me a proper introduction via email. And if not, then I just look like a creep on LinkedIn; no big deal)


Secondly, in order to save time and avoid unwanted problems, hiring managers should be requiring their candidates to contact their references and be responsible for making sure they are completed. How can you make this happen? Follow the quick guideline below to renovate the way you conduct your reference checking:

The Go-to Reference Checklist

  1. Request 3 to 5 references from a candidate. Make sure at least two of the references are the candidate’s former managers and that all of them are non-related to the candidate. This ensures that you’re getting more honest opinions and reviews about the candidate.
  2. Make the candidate schedule the reference check meetings for you. Have your candidate reach out to his or her references to set up a time for you to call them and time for them to complete any questionnaires you might have for them. Your candidate knows the references way better than you do, so he or she has a much better chance of scheduling a phone call at a time you can actually connect with them.
  3. Create a reference check questions guide. The only real effort you should be making during this phase of the interview process is conducting phone calls to the references and developing an initial questionnaire for them to fill out. Think about what you want to know about the candidate that you couldn’t figure out during your interviews with him or her. Ask questions that dive into discovering the candidate’s work habits, ethic, skills, culture fit, etc.
  4. Make the candidate give references at least a 24-hour notice. If the candidate gives his or her references a notice that you’ll be contacting them in advance, you’ll have a much better chance of connecting with them when you call. This also gives the references time to prepare so that they can give you appropriate feedback about your candidate.
  5. Try automated reference checking technology. Using this kind of automated process (much like the aforementioned one listed) holds the candidate responsible for collecting feedback from their references, which is sent directly to you, and never viewed by the candidate. It also allows you to receive timely and honest responses about the candidate’s past job performances to help predict his or her future work performance.

Why take the stairs when you can take the elevator? (I know, there are probably many health-related responses to this question, but I think you get the point here). Giving your candidates more responsibility when performing reference checks is not only easier for you, but it also shows just how reliable your candidates can be. 

Need some inspiration for improving your reference checking? Download the complimentary eBook below so you can hire better employees in the future.

reference check, how to do a reference check

Reference Checks, HR & HR Technology

James Patrick Kahler

About the Author

James Patrick Kahler is Hireology’s Copywriter & Content Specialist. He is a graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and has over four years of professional experience writing for various industries. Outside of the office (and sometimes inside), he has a passion for comedy, advertising and his Cleveland sports teams…all of them.