Tips on Reference Checks

Once you've narrowed the field to your two or three final candidates, it's time to check their references. Here are some items to keep in mind:

  • Encourage applicants to identify relevant references; be sure they include supervisors and colleagues, not just personal friends.
  • Get a signed release from candidates that grants permission for you to contact references.
  • If you're signed up for LinkedIn, you can find references on the site through your professional network and connections.
  • Verify employment and compensation.
  • Focus reference questions on the critical job requirements you've identified; don't just ask a reference to "tell you about someone."
  • Have references give specific examples to support their comments on a candidate.
  • Ask references to rate candidates on the critical job requirements.
  • Listen for "safe" words than can have double meanings. For example, an "independent" worker can be one that is self-reliant or one that doesn't cooperate with peers.
  • Ask the reference if he or she would rehire the candidate.
  • If answers are vague, follow up with more specific questions, for example, "Is there a situation that you can describe in which the candidate showed a high level of persistence in chasing a deal or saving a sale?"

Portions adapted from "Providing Structure to Interviews and Reference Checks," Workforce, Paul Taylor, May 1999

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