Your final step in making the decision to hire a candidate is to check his or her references. All too often, this is treated as a formality—a last box to check before extending an offer of employment. However, reference checks play a key role in the hiring process. In addition to verifying information provided by the candidate about his or her work and performance history, reference checks can also help you gain additional knowledge that may better predict the candidate’s on-the-job success.
Here are five tips to help keep you on task as you check references, which should always be done BEFORE the offer of employment is made:
1. Have your candidate sign a written consent authorizing you to check references.
2. Keep detailed notes on each conversation. Use a standard template to help you keep track.
3. Avoid any questions that might be construed as discriminatory. As a general rule, information obtained and requested through the pre-employment process should be limited to that which is essential for determining if a person is qualified for the job. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based upon race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, and other factors such as sexual orientation. These protections apply to all aspects of the hiring process, including reference checks.
4. Stick to the script. In light of potential liability issues, it is common for a former employer to provide a neutral reference in which the employer merely affirms that the candidate worked for the employer during certain dates and held a specific position. These questions provide a good basic list:
What were the candidate’s dates of employment with your company?
What was the candidate’s position/title?
What was your working relationship with the candidate?
Did he or she meet or exceed the job’s requirements?
Did he or she meet deadlines in a timely fashion?
Would you hire or rehire this candidate again?
5. Know how to handle a negative reference. Do not immediately take the information at face value. You may be dealing with a position for which your candidate wasn’t a good fit. It’s also likely that you have no personal knowledge of the individual giving the reference. If you hear or learn something that concerns you, provide the candidate with a chance to explain his or her perspective and consider asking for additional references to gather more information.