Reference Checking Tips for Managers

Good hiring decisions require as much information as possible.  Given how frequently applicants falsify application materials, how devastating a “wrongful hire” can be to an organization, and the risks of negligent hiring it’s more important than ever to check references.  A few tips to help you in the process are discussed below.

  1. Be Prepared.  Identify the kinds of information that you need to know about the applicant based upon the requirements of the job.  Also review the job application or resume for red flags (e.g., employment gaps, inconsistencies, etc.) that you might want to probe.
  2. Develop a List of Questions.  Many companies utilize standard Telephone Reference Check Forms.  Use the same list of questions and format for all applicants in similar positions.  Make sure that you gather only job related information.
  3. Make The Call.  Identify and introduce yourself immediately.
  4. Explain Why You Are Calling.  “[Name of applicant] has applied for a position with our organization and listed you as a reference.  Do you have a few minutes to talk about her?”
  5. Confidentiality.  Assure the contact that the conversation is confidential.  “Any information you provide will be held in confidence, used only for business purposes, and communicated on a need to know basis.”
  6. Be Friendly.  Don’t waste the contact’s time, but do try to establish some type of rapport. (e.g., comment on what you know of their organization, location, perhaps you share a similar position).
  7. Confirm the Basic Facts.  Make sure that employment dates, name of position, job responsibilities and other basic information about the applicant’s past position are accurate.
  8. Drill Deeper.   Try to identify strengths and weaknesses, get answers to your “red flag” questions, and explore other hesitancies you may have about the candidate.  Let the contact speak freely without interruption.  Probe into areas that the individual seems reluctant to discuss.  Watch for obvious pauses that might indicate a problem.
  9. Stay Legal.  Avoid illegal questions and remember that if you can’t ask it during an interview, you can’t ask it during a reference check either.
  10. Discuss the Position.  Let the contact know what position the applicant is seeking.  Discuss whether it is a “good fit” and why.
  11. Go Fishing.  Occasionally you may need to say something to prompt a response such as: “It seems that you don’t think she has the skills for the position” or “I take it that you don’t strongly recommend this person for this position.”
  12. Always Ask the Rehire Question.  Ask, “Would you rehire this person?”
  13. Are There Others?   It may be useful to ask for names of other individuals at the company who supervised or worked closely with the applicant.  They could have been intentionally left off the reference list and may be very useful to you.
  14. The Stonewall. If the contact is hesitant to speak:
    1. Inform him that the applicant has signed an Authorization to Release Information that you can send over as necessary.
    2. If necessary, have the contact call you back.  This verifies that you are who you say you are.
    3. Try to establish rapport.  You may be able to establish a mutual connection, such as the type of business you’re in, similar positions or locations.
    4. Some organizations will only accept written reference requests.  You may need to try that.
    5. Attempt to gather at least a minimal amount of information such as dates of employment, position, and whether the individual would be rehired.
  15. Thank Them. Be sure to end the conversation by thanking the contact for his time.  You also may want to take the opportunity to ask if there is anything that might be helpful in making the hiring decision.
  16. Document. Make sure you document the dates of your conversations and the names, titles, and companies of the contacts.  Document all contacts and attempted contacts, even if you never reached the individual or she was reluctant to speak with you.  However, be careful that your written comments are legal, clear, and aren’t easily misinterpreted.
  17. Get Help As Needed. Checking references is a difficult process, even for those with lots of experience.  There are also significant legal implications.  So be sure to contact Human Resources with any questions or concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this publication are intended for general information purposes only.  Neither the author nor the publisher is engaged in rendering legal or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

Posted in Around the NW.