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Reference Checks: Successful Verification or Outdated Process? Steps to Optimize their Effectiveness 

By Helen Trainor and Janey Wellons


Reference checks are traditionally a crucial step in the hiring process that can make a significant impact on your decision. They can provide valuable insights into a candidate's past performance, work ethic, and compatibility with your organization. In this blog, we'll explore the importance of reference checks, when to conduct them, and how to ensure a successful verification process. 

Why Are Reference Checks Important? 


Verification of Candidate Information: Reference checks can help verify the accuracy of the information provided by candidates in their resumes and during interviews. This includes verifying employment history, job titles, responsibilities, and achievements. 


Assessing Work Performance: Speaking with previous employers or colleagues allows you to gain a deeper understanding of a candidate's work performance, strengths, areas for improvement, and overall contributions to their previous roles. 


Culture Fit and Team Dynamics: Reference checks can shed light on how well a candidate integrates into a team, communicates with peers and supervisors, handles challenges, and aligns with your company's values and culture. 


Predicting Future Success: Past behavior is often indicative of future behavior. By conducting thorough reference checks, you can better predict how a candidate will perform and contribute to your organization if hired. 


 When Should Reference Checks Be Conducted? 


Reference checks should typically be conducted in the finalist stage. Once you have narrowed the candidates to a few finalists, you should check their references, as an essential step before extending a job offer.  The references, along with a background check can provide additional insights that can influence your hiring decision. 


Here's a recommended timeline for conducting reference checks: 


Post-Interview Stage: Once you've completed final interviews and identified potential candidates, proceed with reference checks for those individuals. 


Before Job Offer: It's best to complete reference checks before extending a job offer. This ensures that you have all the relevant information to make an informed hiring decision. 


Respect Candidate Privacy: Always obtain consent from candidates before contacting their references. Inform them about the purpose of the reference check and reassure them that their information will be handled confidentially.  Ask the candidate if the person listed was a supervisor or a peer.  Also make sure to get specific permission for any of the current company references.  If the candidate hasn’t informed their current manager or peers of their job search, you can put them in a difficult situation. 


How to Successfully Complete Reference Checks 


Prepare Your Questions: Develop a set of structured questions that address key aspects of the candidate's performance, such as work ethic, collaboration skills, problem-solving abilities, and areas of improvement.  


Contacting References: Reach out to the references provided via email or phone. Clearly state your identity, the purpose of the call, and the information you're seeking. Respect their time and schedule the conversation at a convenient time for them. 


Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage references to provide detailed insights by asking open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking if the candidate was a good team player, inquire about specific instances where they demonstrated teamwork and collaboration. 


Listen Actively: Pay attention to what the references share about the candidate. Take note of both positive feedback and areas of improvement mentioned during the conversation. 


Verify Information: Cross-reference the information gathered during the reference check with the candidate's resume and interview responses. Look for consistency and ensure that there are no discrepancies. 


Document Findings: Keep detailed records of your reference checks, including the date, reference contact information, questions asked, and key takeaways. This documentation can be valuable for future reference and decision-making. 


Evaluate Feedback: Use the insights gained from reference checks to evaluate each candidate holistically. Consider how their past performance and characteristics align with the requirements and expectations of the role. 


Reference checks can be a tool for hiring managers to make informed decisions and ensure the best fit for their organizations. A personal or professional reference though is not the same as a background check or an education verification.  When the three are combined, you will conduct reference checks strategically.  The insights you gain can enhance your hiring process and ultimately feel more confident about your decision to hire (or not hire) the candidate being considered. 


Are you checking references? Let us know in the comments. If you feel your reference checks could be better, consider partnering with TalentRemedy. Our industry experts can help your team use reference checks as a crucial part of your hiring process. At TalentRemedy, we specialize in helping companies hire top talent to keep your organization running smoothly. Contact us at or 703-362-0175 to set up a time to learn more about how our team can support your hiring needs. 



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