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Reference Checks Best Practices: How Should Reference Checks Be Conducted?

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

When it comes to reference checks, there are many articles on the internet discussing what are the right questions to ask. But as much as it is important to know what you will need to ask, it is also vital to be aware of the questions that you should avoid.

This is imperative, now that there is increased scrutiny surrounding personal data protection policies in recent times. On top of that, employers also face the potential risk of asking questions that may lead to discrimination which would be damaging regardless of whether it is intended or unintended. In this article, we will share some dos and don’ts on how employers could approach the topic of reference checking when communicating with the parties involved.

Requesting a reference from a new employee 

Some companies include this request in their job application forms to save the hassle of communicating, while others choose to begin the reference-request process only after shortlisting several candidates who are in serious consideration for the position. How do you go about bringing up the topic without making it seem like you doubt them?

Being transparent definitely helps. Share that reference checks are a common practice in the company and it is something that you have to do to abide by the hiring policies of your company. Candidates who lack exposure to the procedures of recruitment could feel like they are being doubted by the team. Introduce them to the process and let them know that the feedback obtained will be entirely confidential and kept between you and the respective referee.

It is also important to let the candidate know that they should receive consent from their references to prevent any confusion in your communication process with the referee.

Communicating with the referees

Now that you’re done with obtaining the contact details from your candidates, it is time to face the most dreaded step of all: communicating with the referees for their feedback. Phone calls can have awkward pauses and email responses may be vague. The tip is to make the communication as conversational as possible to ease the referee into being open with their feedback.

Always begin by identifying the relationship that the referee and the candidate share — is this the right person who will give me the information that I need to know? Priscilla Claman, the president of Career Strategies, also recommends starting off with compliments for the candidate. Any hesitation exhibited in your words would make it likely for the referee to withhold information from you. Assure them that their responses will be kept confidential between your team and him or her.

When communicating with the referees, you may encounter people who give vague responses so as to get the conversation moving. Some would not want to jeopardise their recruitment chances and thus will withhold information from you. Therefore, it is important for you to make proper judgements about the responses you are receiving. Are all of the referees saying something similar about the candidate or was it only that one manager? Having a few references available for you to check with would resolve this issue.

Help them to understand why you have to carry out this reference check. As fellow colleagues or past managers, they would be aware of the importance of working with someone who is not only trustworthy but also of value to the team-dynamics. Bringing this point across would let them view the process from a different perspective and would encourage them to provide you with better quality feedback.

What to avoid when conducting reference checks

  1. Questions that involve protected class information i.e. related to race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, marital or family status. To be safe, keep all questions related to the job that they are applying for.

  2. “What are his/her weaknesses?” Many people freeze up when approached with such a question as they do not wish to provide a negative review of the candidate’s performance. Instead, consider rephrasing this to “What do you think he/she could improve on?”. You will notice the difference in the reactions of the referees.

  3. Do your best not to greatly vary the questions asked to the referees. Having non-standardised questions would be an invitation for personal bias to play a part in your decision-making process, and that is something you would not want to happen when hiring someone.

The advancement of reference checks

robin provides the most intelligent and dependable reference checks that promise to help firms hire the right talents by automating the highly painful process. robin enables employers to formulate questionnaires that are designed with data-driven frameworks— ensuring that the right questions are asked and avoided to obtain quality insights.

You no longer need to follow up via phone calls or emails. robin handles the process from end-to-end for you and referees can give their feedback when it is most convenient for them via their smartphones or desktops. The process in most cases takes less than 36 hours.

Click here to find out more about robin and schedule a demo to see the good for yourself!

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