Growth & Customers

The right way to do a reference check

The right way to do a reference check

Hiring new employees can be an exciting time but also a challenging one. There are so many things to think about when you’re looking for the perfect candidates:

  • Are you advertising in the right places to get the best people applying?
  • Are you asking the right questions during interviews?
  • Should you be asking candidates to complete tasks or psychometric tests?
  • Do they have the right qualifications and can you confirm them?
  • Will they have the right cultural fit for your company?
  • Are they allowed to work in Ireland?
  • What about criminal records?
  • And of course, do you want to work with this person every day?

Checking the facts

Once you have selected the perfect candidate, you need to ask yourself if they are really as good as they appear. One of the best ways of finding out is to check with their previous employer(s), using a reference check.

Surprisingly, many businesses feel they don’t have the time or energy to make these checks – but they really are worthwhile.

If you employ someone without the skills or experience that they’ve claimed, it will be a waste of time, money and resource. Plus, you’ll have to get rid of them, re-advertise the position and go through the whole process again.

So here’s our no-nonsense guide to getting those checks done, so you can employ the best and get on with growing your company.

Just the facts

The first thing to remember is that a candidate’s previous employers don’t have to provide a reference if they don’t want to. But if they do, then the reference has to be true, fair, accurate and not give a misleading impression. It doesn’t matter if the reference is verbal or written, long or short.

Giving false or misleading information can actually make them liable, if the candidate ends up costing your business money.

Some businesses give just the basic facts so they don’t fall foul of this. These can include the following:

  • Start date
  • End date
  • Days off sick
  • Holidays taken

While all this can be quite useful, ideally you’ll want to know more.

Create a reference check template

One idea is to ask the candidate’s previous employers specific questions, rather than hope they send the data you’re after. An efficient way to do this is to create a reference check template and send it to anyone who’s prepared to offer a reference.

It’s often easier for them to fill this template out and you’ll get a more detailed reference.

To confirm their claims and to build an idea of how they were perceived, you could ask:

  • What the candidate did
  • How long they worked there
  • What their salary was
  • If they had any attendance issues
  • If they had any warnings or discipline/capability plans in place
  • If you would recommend them as an employee

Review all references

It’s important that you wait for all references to come back to you before you offer the job. If you don’t, and you then find out that the employee is untrustworthy, you would find it extremely difficult to legitimately dismiss them at this stage.

You often find that you know whether a candidate will make a good employee in your business straight away. It’s comforting to have this impression backed up with strong references, allowing you to go ahead and offer the job.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and relevance.