Are You Taking the Right Steps to Perform a Candidate Reference Check?

A guide on candidate reference checks- what they are and how to conduct them thoroughly.

Candidate resume reference checks

Reference checks matter.

Imagine this: You’ve posted a job ad. You receive tons of applications, so you create a shortlist with the best candidates on paper. One candidate, in particular, has an impressive resume and becomes your top choice. When you invite them for an interview, things just don’t add up. They are not what they presented on paper...

CNBC reported that 78% of job seekers lie in their resumes. In a survey conducted on 400 job seekers and 400 hiring professionals, these were the biggest lies told:

  • 60% of the applicants claimed to have advanced skill sets that they did not have.
  • 50% increased the time they worked at one company so that they could remove another employer from their timeline.
  • 49% lied about having a higher GPA by over 0.5 points.

Candidate reference checks are an important step in the hiring process. They help you weed out unsuitable and dishonest candidates.

But do you know which steps to follow when checking candidate references?

What Is a Candidate Reference Check?

When reviewing candidates, you can contact the references listed on the applicant’s resume. These include previous employers, former educators, and personal references. The primary purpose of contacting references is to learn more about the candidates. You want to ascertain their:

  • Educational background
  • Job qualifications
  • Employment history
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Behavior
  • Skills
Resume Information Checking

How To Check References in 5 Steps

For thorough checks, follow these five steps:

Request References

Some applicants may include references in their applications or their CV. If they don’t, request 2-5 references. Two of these should be former employers that can testify about the applicant’s professional performance and skills.

Spot Fake References

The Economic Times reported that 20-30% of job candidates use fake references. Keep this in mind when reviewing resumes.

How can you spot a fake reference? You can cross-check the phone numbers listed on the resume vs what you can find in phone directories. You can also check to see if the person exists by searching for them on social media platforms, like Facebook and LinkedIn. Determine if the information matches what you can see on the reference list.

Schedule A Meeting

While you can certainly just call up a reference at a time that suits you, that doesn’t mean it will be convenient for them. Whether the person is a manager, employee, or friend of the applicant, they also have lives.

It is best to conduct these reference check meetings at a suitable time for you both. Contact the reference and schedule a meeting. Ideally, you should have this meeting in a quiet place if you meet in person. You can also choose to have virtual meetings, telephonically or using video conferencing tools.  

Alternatively, you can ask the candidate to reach out to their references and set up a time to call you. Or you can share your calendar via &team or a similar appointment scheduling tool to book the meeting.

Reference check calls or meetings

Draft Your Questions

Preparation is an important part of interviewing references. If you don’t already have questions you’d like to ask, you can create them with these tips:

  • Don’t ask yes or no questions as these give limited information. Instead, ask open-ended questions to get the reference talking and sharing information about the candidate.
  • Ask follow-up questions if the reference says something you’d like to clarify or learn more about.
  • Ensure the questions you ask are legal.
  • Ask questions that give you information about the candidate’s skills, character, experience, and work ethic.

Consider these questions:

  • How long have you known [name]?
  • How would you describe their overall job performance?
  • What characteristics made them a value-add to your team?
  • What strengths made them stand out from their colleagues?
  • Did [name] have any weaknesses? Did they work on improving these? How did you help them overcome these hurdles?
  • Would you consider rehiring [name] if given the opportunity?
  • Was there a time where [name] had to undergo disciplinary action? Can you tell me more about that?
Meeting candidate references

Take Notes

Now that you’ve scheduled the reference meetings and you have your questions ready, it’s time for the meeting.

Take detailed notes and listen actively throughout the meeting. This is a great way to gather new information about the candidate that you can add to your existing data.

You can create a standard note-taking template with the most important bits of information you’ll be listening for. Include the candidate’s name, the reference’s name and contact details, the date of the call, and your list of questions.

Final Thoughts

Not every applicant is honest about their experience in their resume or during the interview process. Undertake careful reference checks to verify the candidate’s information. You don’t want to hire someone and onboard them only to discover that they’re not the right fit for your company. Dishonest candidates do not add value to your organization or your brand.

Protect your reputation by conducting thorough reference checks using our five-step guide. Contact us for more information on how to improve your recruitment strategy.