Do Reference Checks Offer Hiring Value?

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In my twenty years as a recruiter, I’ve never seen a selected candidate dismissed because of a reference check. It simply does not happen.

This is because people do not offer references who will speak poorly.  Also, reference checks are typically conducted after a hiring decision is made.

Recently, I’ve noticed that many companies are stopping the process altogether.  Does checking references offer any hiring value, or is this a legacy practice that can be eliminated?

Today’s Business World More Transparent

Before social media and the Internet, a candidate’s references served as one of the only means of verification of truth.

But today, technology is at ready access for companies.  Resumes can be validated through LinkedIn, an Internet search, or messaging a shared contact.  In addition, social media provides a plethora of additional information.

Today, the time-aged practice of calling, emailing, and reading letters of reference can seem a bit archaic.

Not All Reference Checks are Made Alike

Sometimes, it’s not about the act of checking references, but how companies check references.  There are a variety of options.  For example, Hire Right offers services that include contacting colleagues and coworkers as well as verifying education and professional licenses. Checkster.com offers automated reference checking services that replace manual calling.  Some third party services focus on background checks to verify things like employment dates, education, and criminal history.

If handling things on their own, companies can get better reference information by tailoring the types of references and questions asked.  For example, to avoid bias, a company might require a candidate to list supervisors only or use coworker references from only the past three years.

Questions asked of references should be open-ended.  Here are suggestions from TreelineInc:

  • Describe your relationship to the candidate and his/her employment dates?
  • What were his/her responsibilities?
  • What was his/her work ethic like?
  • Can you describe his/her ability to interact with coworkers?
  • Would you rehire this person (why or why not)?

Also, what is this candidate’s biggest weakness?  Or, what is it like to work with this candidate?  Or, why did the candidate leave the company?  Avoid yes/no questions or questions with one word answers. When asking questions, be sure to avoid age, health, marital status or race.

Reference Checks Slow Hiring Process

Checking references can slow the hiring process down. On average, background checks take between 24 and 72 business hours to complete (CareerBuilder).  Checking references is highly dependent on how fast calls and emails are returned.  In many cases, the process may take over a week.  “It is important to note, that companies should be aware of how reference checks affect the length of the hiring process, and the possibility of losing candidates as a result of a long interview process (Treelineinc.com).  In other words, if you’re hiring a candidate who has multiple offers and you want to check references, be prepared to lose the candidate.

Eliminate Reference Checks Altogether?

If a company chooses to forgo the reference check, the best advice is to make sure the interview process itself is thorough.  Asking the right questions during the process, conducting multiple interviews, and using technology as a resource is all recommended.

At Artemis Consultants, we want companies to find the best hire possible.  We are here to assist candidates and hiring managers at all steps in the hiring process.  Check out our case studies on our website for our “references.”

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