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Ask The Expert: "What’s the Difference Between Reference Checks and Employment Verifications?"

Each month, we will tackle one of those burning questions that keeps you awake at night or causes heartburn during the day. Our team of experts will help you stay in the know. We'll cover topics like recruiting trends, legislation, workplace issues and more. You'll get information and answers to help you hire and retain top performers. 


This month’s question is a good one! “What’s the difference between reference checks and employment verifications?” 

You may have heard these terms used interchangeably. Or one may be confused with the other. Both are valuable aspects of the hiring process. They assist employers in making informed decisions about potential employees. Let’s clarify the differences and learn more about the purpose of each. We’ll explore why you might want to do both. You’ll understand how these tools will guide you as you move forward in the candidate selection process.   


Professional Reference Checks 


  • Typically, the prospective employee provides a list of references to check. This request is made closer to the offer decision or after the offer.  

  • References are a subjective gathering of information. You’ll be collecting data related to the skills and performance of the candidate. Those providing these references should be someone with whom the candidate has been in a professional relationship. They can speak to their job dependability and performance. These may be coworkers, managers, or others who have worked with the individual. It’s good practice to request at least two supervisory references to assess how the candidate has performed in the past or currently. 

  • Note: some employers do not allow references to be given by management. These employers will only allow Human Resources to provide employment verification. 


Employment Verifications 


  • This is a gathering of factual information. These facts are related to a prospective employee’s work history. For example, they confirm dates of employment, job title, and rehire eligibility. 

  • Those giving employment verifications are typically the Human Resources department or representative of the company who has access to this data. Larger companies may use an outside vendor for employment verifications. 

  • Note: While people provided as professional references may remember when they worked with an individual, they should not be asked for this employment data, as it’s highly likely they will not have accurate information.  


To recap, employment verification affirms the essential facts regarding a candidate’s previous jobs. A reference check will provide more depth and give critical insight into the intangible aspects of the potential employee’s performance. Many employers will only provide employment verification. However, remember there are coworkers or previous managers who are happy to give their feedback on a previous employee’s job performance. 


Both employment verification and reference checks provide vital information when assessing candidates. Does your organization check both? Let us know in the comments. 


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