While some hiring managers avoid checking references, doing so may be a significant mistake. Calling references is not only useful for validating information about a prospective hire; it may also provide substantial new details regarding an applicant’s past accomplishments or indications of his/her potential worth to your company.
Checking references can be a powerful tool for any hiring agent. By contacting the right people, planning your reference check questions appropriately, and carefully documenting the information you gather, you can feel confident that you have performed proper due diligence. A simple reference check email or short phone call will make your decision much easier and prevent a costly hiring mistake.
Hiring managers and HR reps without much experience often wonder how to ask a candidate for references, but this process is actually quite simple. A straightforward email requesting references from a candidate is one approach. Another option would be to incorporate a “references” section within the initial application along with a release form that 1) permits the company to conduct reference and background checks, and 2) contains a clear waiver of liability against your organization/agents as well as former/prospective employers and their agents for information given during a check.
Most hiring personnel choose to perform their checks over the phone so that they are able to ask follow-up questions or request clarification. However, calling references can be time-consuming, so recruiters often resort to contacting references by email. Using a reference check email template maximizes consistency, and it’s easy to return to the questions and answers if you ever want to look at the information again.
When deciding whom you want to speak with, you should consider the information you are hoping to get. For example, a manager may be best situated to provide attendance records, while a coworker can speak to collaborative/teamwork abilities. Typically, you should talk to at least one person who has directly supervised the applicant. Except in very specific situations— such as those requiring certain types of security clearance— personal references are largely irrelevant and unnecessary.
Whether you plan on calling references or contacting references by email, first you’ll need to come up with a set of reference check questions. To maintain fairness throughout the hiring process, you must ask the same questions of each candidate’s references. By formulating your questions beforehand, you can ensure the answers you receive aren’t influenced by how you frame your inquiries, which will make it easier to compare responses across applicants.
When you first make contact with a reference, take a moment to introduce yourself, explain the purpose of your call, and give an overview of what the reference can expect from your questions. You should also provide a time estimate for the interview and a summary of the available position. The following example will help get you started and can easily be adapted for a reference check email template:
“Hi, my name is ____ and I’m calling to conduct a reference check for (applicant name), who is being considered for the position of ____. Your name has been provided by (applicant name), as a reference. The reference check will take approximately __ minutes to complete.”
Inquiries about specific competencies should be open-ended and detailed. If you have difficulty designing these questions, develop a general list of necessary/preferred skills relevant to the opening to serve as a guide. Additionally, you should ask for specific examples of the candidate’s use of these abilities as well as an overall description of skill level. For example:
“Can you describe (applicant name)’s ability to manage multiple assignments and provide a specific example of a time when (s/he) performed in this manner?”
After completing the interview, consider reviewing your notes for this category and rank responses on a scale from Excellent to Unacceptable.
The other, more objective questions you will ask vary widely in purpose and function. Below is a list of some common information that hiring managers request:
It is important that you maintain records of all interactions with applicants/references to protect against negligent hiring claims and any other issues that might arise if a new employee fails to fulfill their job duties. Information to consider tracking includes:
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There is no set rule on how to ask a candidate for references, which reference check questions are most important, or whether calling references yields better information than contacting references by email. Each hiring organization has its own standards and practices. However, there are a few other key points to consider as you are checking references.
Before you can begin checking references you have to find great candidates! Post your job with iHire to get top-notch applicants or search our resume database to find the industry-focused talent you’re looking for.