What Is Included in Reference Checks?

Reference Checks

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Reference checks are when an employer contacts an applicant’s previous employers, colleagues, schools, or another source to learn more about educational background, employment history, and qualifications for the job. This process offers employers a number of benefits.

There can be several steps in a reference check. The employer can verify job titles and dates of employment, or dates of attendance at school and the degree attained. An in-depth check is going to mean talking to references in order to gain more insight into the applicant’s abilities, qualifications, and skills to do the job. During an in-depth reference check, references can expect questions that are similar to those asked to the job applicant during the interview. They might be asked to describe the weaknesses and strengths of the applicant or their best qualities.

Difference Between Reference Check and Background Check

Reference checks and background checks are similar but there are differences. Background checks and reference checks cover a lot of the same ground but there is a different focus. Reference checks are designed to provide insight into abilities as a performer for a job. Background checks are designed to verify credentials and experience. Reference checks focus on personal and professional references that are given to the employer. Background checks can include a review of credit history, criminal record, and employment background.

Tips for Doing Reference Checks

If you are going to be doing reference checks, there are some tips to make sure you get the most benefit out of them. Get input from the interview team. The interview team may have already decided to hire a candidate but there could also be more information to get from the interview process. Are there some concerns the interviewers have? Is there information they want to follow up on? Feedback from the interview team can help you form an approach for the reference check.

When conducting a reference check, describe the job and then ask questions that pertain to the responsibilities. For example, in order for an employee to do well in this role, he or she needs to be able to do A, B, and C. This will allow the reference to explain how your applicant fits into that criteria. This is a more productive and effective strategy than just asking if the reference thinks the applicant can do A, B, and C. Questions should be open-ended but specific. Questions that are basic, such as “Tell me about the applicant,” aren’t going to be helpful, and you will likely get a vague answer. Instead, ask for specific examples. For example, say you learned that the applicant helped produce their latest social media campaign and ask the reference to explain more about his or her role in the project.

There are many different questions you can ask in order to get more information about a candidate. It may be helpful to have a template that you can use for every prospective hire. Some common question includes:

  • What are the applicant’s biggest weaknesses and strengths?
  • Did the applicant get along with management and co-workers?
  • How do you know the applicant?
  • How did the applicant handle conflict?
  • What makes the applicant a good fit for this position?
  • What else should we know about the applicant that wasn’t already asked?

Permission for Reference Checks

Employers need permission in order to use a third party to check backgrounds and references. Permission may be required for education information or school transcripts to be released. It’s in the best interest to ask permission before talking to anyone. Many companies will notify candidates that they will have their references checked. Some states also have laws that regulate consent requirements and what a company is able to ask about former employees. Some of these laws give employers protection from liability for disclosing employee information. Many states don’t require getting any permission before checking references.

Check References Early for Best Results

A common practice is checking references at the end of the process. Many companies do this because of the belief that a reference check doesn’t give much valuable information and should only be used as a check to make sure there aren’t any glaring red flags. In fact, reference checks can be more beneficial when done after the first or second round of interviews. This way, you aren’t investing too much time in other candidates that wouldn’t be the right fit.

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