3 Reference Checking Guidelines Every Staffing Firm Needs to Succeed

One survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management suggests that 76% of companies check references for each and every job candidate. Reference checking is one of the most important aspects of the hiring process when well done. By checking references, hiring managers obtain important information about whether or not a prospective employee is qualified and suited for a particular position.

Reference checking has traditionally been a fairly lengthy and time-consuming process, so you might be tempted to skimp on this vital step. Hiring an individual involves making an investment. Just as you would never hire someone without interviewing them first, you should make sure that reference checking is always a part of your hiring process.

So what guidelines should you follow when checking references?

Create a List of Standardized Questions to Ask Each Reference

The reference check process needs to be both fair and consistent. Standardizing your reference checking ensures that all job candidates are treated equally. It also leads to more reliable and useful information that will allow you to quickly compare candidates and make the best possible hiring decision.

Before you begin contacting those listed as references, sit down and create a standardized reference check form that you can use during each interview. List the questions you plan to ask and leave room to take notes.

Each interview should focus on how long the candidate and the reference have known each other, the nature of the relationship, how long the candidate worked in the former position and details about job titles, job duties and job performance. Focus on crafting open-ended questions that lead to more detailed and insightful information.

Stick to Questions About Job Performance

Fair hiring laws are in place to protect the rights of job seekers, so it is important to focus on questions related directly to the individual’s past job performance. Strictly avoid questions related to the applicant’s age, marital status, family status and religious background. Instead, keep the interview focused on verifying the candidate’s resume information and learning more about how the individual performed at the job.

Some of the things you should verify through a reference check include the reference’s relationship with the job candidate, dates of employment, job title and work duties. Ask the person providing the reference to describe the candidate's work performance and what it was like to work with him or her. Asking about the applicant's strengths and weaknesses is another great way to gain insight into whether the individual will be capable of succeeding in the position for which they have applied. You might also consider asking why the candidate left the position and whether the company would hire the individual again.

Consider Automating the Task

Manual reference checking can be a tedious process. Most require at least one or more hours of a manager’s time and yet many of these checks do not turn up a great deal of useful information. Former employers are sometimes hesitant to give out real feedback on past performance or simply do not have the time to complete a satisfactory interview.

Taking advantage of technology is one way to not only speed up the process but to also obtain better and more accurate feedback. Automated reference checking involves emailing a survey link to each of a candidate’s listed references. Those who receive the survey can then submit their feedback when it is convenient for them. Instead of spending hours chasing down former employers for phone interviews, hiring managers are able to spend just minutes obtaining a wealth of insight on job candidates.

What other reference check guidelines does your organization follow?

Reference Check Questionnaire
for Staffing Firms

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About The Author

Yves Lermusi (aka Lermusiaux) is CEO & co-founder of Checkster. Mr. Lermusi is a well known public speaker and a Career and Talent industry commentator. He is often quoted in the leading business media worldwide, including Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Business Week, and Time Magazine. His articles and commentary are published regularly in online publications and business magazines. Mr. Lermusi was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the Recruiting Industry” and his blog has been recognized as the best third party blog.