The Importance of Reference Checks: Why You Shouldn’t Underestimate Them

Jul 2, 2023

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The Importance of Reference Checks

Reference checks are often considered the final step in the hiring process. Sometimes, in the rush to onboard a promising candidate or when they have performed exceptionally well during the interview, we tend to view reference checks as a mere formality. However, it’s crucial to recognize the true significance of reference checks. Here’s why they matter more than you may think.

Reference checks serve as a necessary component of your recruitment process, providing the finishing touch that confirms or challenges your impressions of a candidate.

Benefits of conducting reference checks:

During interviews, candidates strive to showcase their best qualities, making it challenging to form an unbiased and realistic assessment—especially if they have excelled in the interview setting. This is where reference checks become invaluable. By reaching out to individuals who have previously managed or supervised the candidate, you can gain insights into their behavior and performance in a professional environment. Thoughtfully crafted questions can delve into not only the candidate’s qualifications, experience, and job responsibilities but also their strengths, weaknesses, teamwork abilities, and specific areas of expertise.

What to avoid during reference checks:

  • Maintain neutrality: While evaluating a candidate’s references, remember to assess areas for improvement without immediately discounting the candidate. Consider these areas in relation to your role requirements, the candidate’s strengths, and the value they can bring to the position.
  • Avoid treating reference checks as a mere formality: When conducted diligently, reference checks enhance your hiring process. This involves delving into what references reveal or withhold, asking the right questions, and interpreting the responses effectively.

Tips for conducting successful reference checks:

  • Obtain permission from the candidate: Always seek the candidate’s consent before contacting their references.
  • Confirm the referee’s awareness: Check with the candidate to ensure that the reference is aware of the upcoming contact. This prevents catching the referee off guard and gives them time to reflect on their experience with the candidate.
  • Prefer hiring managers or supervisors as referees: Ideally, your references should be individuals who have directly supervised or managed the candidate, as they possess the necessary insights that colleagues may lack.
  • Opt for phone conversations: If possible, make a phone call to the reference. Sometimes, it’s not just the content of their response but also their tone of voice, inflection, or even moments of silence that can provide valuable cues. If something seems guarded or the tone feels off, it’s worth exploring further. This approach might help you identify potential red flags and prevent a poor hiring decision.
  • Be open to spontaneous questions: Engaging in a phone conversation allows for spontaneous queries that may arise during the discussion. The best reference checks often deviate from a predefined form, enabling a more comprehensive exploration of the referee’s insights.

If you find yourself short on time to conduct phone-based reference checks, our HR Assist team can assist you. Please contact Annette Weatherall at +64275428706.

Remember, reference checks are not just a formality. By investing the necessary effort and thought into this crucial step, you can gather valuable information that will contribute to making informed hiring decisions.