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How to Conduct a Reference Check

Employers / 26 Jul, 2021

When filling an open role, hiring managers are tasked with finding candidates that fit the skillset and culture needed to succeed. Reference checks provide third-party verification of a candidate’s resume and interview answers to help you identify the best fit and weed out candidates that have underperformed in previous roles. Follow these tips to successfully navigate your next reference check.

When to Conduct a Reference Check

  • Conduct reference checks once an offer is extended and accepted.
  • Only conduct reference checks after receiving consent from the candidate.

Reference checks should be one of the last steps you conduct in the hiring process. If you contact a candidate’s references before this point, you could jeopardize the candidate’s current employment situation.

Why You Should Conduct a Reference Check

Reference checks verify the information provided by a candidate and provide additional information to help you paint a complete picture of how well a candidate would fit into your organization. They can also help you minimize the risk of hiring a new employee by identifying discrepancies. Did you know that more than half of employers have found a lie on a candidate’s resume? Reference checks can help you identify and filter out dishonest candidates and protect your organization.

Best Practices for Conducting Reference Checks

Reference checks must be conducted in a professional and confidential manner to protect both your organization and the candidate. These best practices can help you maximize the output of a reference check while maintaining professional conduct.

  • Be upfront about your reference check policies. Make it clear early on in the interview process that you will conduct reference checks. You should also give your candidate notice when you plan to contact their references. This way, they can notify their references to be prepared to receive your call.
  • Ask for a variety of references, including managers, peers, and subordinates. This mix will help you get a full picture of a candidate’s past job performance.
  • Respect your candidate’s confidentiality and only contact references they provide. You should only contact the references your candidate has explicitly consented to. Additionally, you should let references know their responses are confidential and won’t be shared with the candidate.
  • Ask specific questions that pertain to the job at hand. Avoid broad questions like “What can you tell me about the candidate?” Instead, use the time with the reference to address specific concerns regarding a candidate’s qualifications and how they apply to the job responsibilities.
  • Briefly explain the role to the reference. This will help the reference frame their answers around the specific job opportunity. Just be sure to keep your explanation brief so that you can quickly shift the conversation to your questions.

Questions to Ask During a Reference Check

When conducting a reference check, you should frame the questions based on the candidate’s relationship with the reference. Remember to use specific, open-ended questions to make the most of your time with the candidate’s reference. These questions can help guide the conversation:

  • How did you and the candidate work together? This question establishes the relationship between the reference and the candidate. It allows you to gauge what other questions you should ask the reference.
  • What skills does the candidate possess that would help them succeed in this role? If you’ve adequately described the role to the reference (see best practices), this question can reveal meaningful insight into the candidate’s previous performance and aptitude for the role.
  • Was the candidate dependable? This question can address the candidate’s work ethic, ability to meet deadlines, and ability to provide support to team members.
  • What are some areas of improvement for the candidate? Now that you’ve addressed the candidate’s strengths, you should ask about areas of growth. Posing this question later in the conversation once you’ve established rapport can help produce honest results.
  • Tell me about the candidate’s collaboration style. Use this opportunity to understand their ability to work well with others and fit into your company’s culture.
  • Would you work with the candidate again in the future? This question can illuminate several key aspects about the candidate: the terms of leaving their previous role, their relationship with former peers, and more.

More Hiring Tools and Resources

At VIP, we’re experts in finding accounting and finance talent to fit the needs of your organization. Our thorough recruiting process includes sourcing, screening, checking references, verifying degrees, conducting background checks, and more.