A Complete Guide for Hiring Managers: Running a Reference Check

Have you ever made a bad hire? 

If you have, don’t worry. It’s actually pretty common for hiring managers to miss out on a candidate every once in a while.  

But the regret of hiring the wrong person can sting because you know it’s the quality of employees that can often determine the success of your business. 

And in today’s environment, where more and more companies are shifting to a remote workspace, hiring the right person has become as important as ever. 

But sifting through candidates can be tough and narrowing it down to the final candidate who is a perfect fit for the job is never as simple as it sounds. 

Running an in-depth reference check can help expedite and accurize this process. 

But how can you make sure it’s being done thoroughly and accurately without becoming too time-consuming? 

In this article, we’re going to explain exactly how you can perfect and accelerate your reference checking system and hire the best people for your team.  

Let’s jump right in. 

Why Is a Reference Check Important?

When it comes to hiring the right job candidate, it’s important to know how they function in a working environment and in the outside world.  

Sometimes the only way to really find out what they’re like is through others. 

And so, the reference system is born. 

If a person wants to work at your company, they’ll be inclined to sell their best attributes and experiences to you in their resume and throughout the interview process 

But it’s their references that can offer you a more level perspective about who the candidate is and what they have to offer. 

Having conversations with a candidate’s past coworkers and bosses can offer you a better idea of whether the applicant is the right choice for you or not because they can provide additional information on a candidate that isn’t included in his or her resume. 

Taking everything that a candidate says at face value will often turn out fine – most people are honest about their achievements and past employment.  

But in the circumstances where they lie, failing to check references can have severe consequences.  

Though it can be tricky to get through to an old manager and solicit a reference because of wariness around new rules that restrict what they can and cannot reveal, a reference check is still a vital part of the hiring process. You especially want to run a reference check on boomerang employees, as you want to check in on how an employee performed outside of your company.

You should aim to get references from those listed. Even when the candidate is great, they can still offer you further insight into why. The reference check is useful no matter who you’re thinking of hiring. 

The Key Benefits of Reference Checks

You understand why it’s important, but what are the real benefits of a reference check when it comes to making the hiring process easier? 

 Reference checks are beneficial because they make your hiring process: 

  • Rigorous 
  • Reliable 
  • Effective 
  • Customizable 

Ultimately, making sure you have a streamlined reference checking system and using it well will make the job of hiring easy, effective, and efficient.  

It’ll also translate into plenty of long-term benefits for your business. 

Best Practice for Reference Checking

There are some actions that you can take to make your reference-checking process effective and reliable. These steps will help ensure you get the best results possible. 

State That You Check References

Telling your candidates that you check references will encourage them to be honest from the get-go.  

There’s no point in them hiding the truth or telling lies about their achievements if you’re going to be discussing the employment history with former managers.  

However, it’s important to note that there are some rules about what you can and cannot ask in a reference check. 

The rules are in place to defend against discriminatory and unfair hiring practices, so make sure to check in with your HR or legal department if you have questions about what is permissible to ask a reference.

Getting truthful answers during the interview process can save time and resources when it comes to the hiring process. 

Build on Interview Responses

Allowing the candidate to take the lead when it comes to designing your reference check questions is a good way to tailor the process to each candidate.  

By using the information, a candidate has given about themselves in their interview with you as part of your conversation with their reference, you can gain a deeper understanding and gather additional details on whether they are the right person to hire. 

Aside from learning more about their past work experience and skill sets, you can check if past employees concur with the positive reviews that candidates say they’ll receive.  

Rather than using a standard set of questions for everyone, you can use this technique to specify based on the things that interest you about a potential employee. 

You can also ask further questions about certain workplace achievements and the kinds of characteristics it takes to get them. 

Design a Reference Check Form

While it’s great to get specific with your reference check questions, there are certain questions that you’ll have to ask every candidate.  

A reference check form will not only remind you what these must-ask questions are, but will also give you somewhere to write down and record responses.  

Though it might sound obvious, it’s easy to forget the basic questions while you’re involved in a phone call or video meeting. 

That’s why it’s good to have a prompt sheet that ensures you’ve got the necessities covered, then build on it with your knowledge of the other things you need to know. 

A reference check form might include: 

  • Name of Applicant 
  • Last Contact with the Former Employer 
  • Dates of Employment 
  • Nature of Job 
  • How Did They Perform 
  • Reason For Leaving 

These pieces of information will give you a useful overview of the applicant, no matter the position for which they’re applying.  

Once you have your standard check form, you can then make a note of further points of interest before proceeding with a reference check to ask position-relevant questions.  

This tool will ensure you never leave a reference-checking call with the feeling that there was something you forgot to ask. 

Do the Check Yourself

Though it might be tempting when you’re busy dealing with the ups and downs of running a business, reference checking is not the kind of job that is meant to be delegated.  

When you have a set process that you know to be effective, you must undertake the job yourself and make sure it gets done properly. 

After all, as a hiring manager, you’ll be the one held accountable for the quality of candidates the company hires. 

Making sure you check references yourself is the best way to make sure your position-specific questions get answered.  

Calling a reference yourself will encourage them to be open and honest with you, and they’ll likely want to give you the best insight into how to manage the individual as a result of a sense of co-managerial respect. 

Important Reference Check Questions

Whether you’re making calls, video conferencing, or sending a reference check email, there are additional questions beyond the basic info that you’ll likely want answered.  

Here are some vital questions to ask when checking references: 

  • What were the details of the candidate’s role at your company? 
  • How did they impress you? 
  • What are their best qualities as an employee? 
  • What was their most notable achievement in their role? 
  • Do you believe they could benefit from additional training? 
  • How do they work with others? 
  • Do they respond well to helpful criticism? 
  • Would you take them on as an employee again? 
  • Are you aware of any weaknesses they have? 
  • Is there anything else you think I need to know? 
  • Do you recommend that I speak to anyone else about the candidate? 

These questions will give plenty of room for detailed answers from the referee while also prompting them to speak about the important things you need to know.  

This is an effective way to maximize the amount of useful information you retrieve from a reference check. 

3 Red Flags to Watch Out For

When conducting reference checks, there are some bad signs that it pays to keep an eye out for. While there may be perfectly reasonable explanations for these issues, you may want to factor them in to the full picture of the candidate.

Here are three things to be vigilant about during the hiring process: 

Bad References

If a candidate’s former employer has nothing good to say about them, then they might not be the person for the job. But be sure that you probe for details – some former bosses might give negative reviews that are undeserved for their own reasons. 

References that are too good to be true

If a review or professional reference sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A reliable reference will give you a rounded, unbiased image of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Lies in an application

If a reference check uncovers that a candidate has lied in their application or interview, that’s not a good look for them. Dishonesty is never a desirable characteristic - if they have embellished, consider allowing them to explain their viewpoint. 

If one of these red flags does show up during the hiring process, you can either take them out of the running or give them a chance to give their reasoning or their side of the story. 

If you’re genuinely interested in a candidate, get back in touch and have a deeper chat with them before writing them off. 

Conclusion: Reference Checks Get You Great Staff

For your business to be successful, you need to hire the right people – simple as that. 

But as more and more companies are switching to long-term and permanent remote work, finding the right candidates has become a more difficult task.  

Running a thorough reference check helps solve this problem by gathering additional, accurate information in an efficient manner so you can quickly evaluate candidates and determine the right person for the job. 

There are recommended practices and strategies laid out in this guide, as well as a handful of reference check questions to ask and red flags to watch out for that will help make your life as a hiring manager easier. 

Implement these techniques into your own reference check process today and watch how much more effective the hiring process becomes.  

If you’d like to discuss ways to streamline your hiring process with experts in staffing and recruiting, just get in touch with our Insight Global team today. 


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