The Case for Reference Checks!

It always surprises me to learn that a former employee has a new job and their supervisor wasn’t called for a reference.  In most cases its no big deal – whatever the hiring manager uncovered in an interview or other steps in their hiring process can be counted on to be true.  For others – not so much.  We know there were issues in how the employee behaved in our work environment, and while we make no effort to predict how they might behave in other settings, we believe its our role to describe those issues as factually as possible along with the circumstances that created them.  We try our best to avoid opinion as we know it is the prospective employer’s responsibility to decide for themselves if there is a hiring risk.  I just don’t understand why any employer would skip the only step in their hiring process that gives them a way to verify what they’ve been told by a candidate during an interview or on a resume.   Didn’t someone famous once say – trust but verify?  It’s so true, and we see it time and time again.  The interview process doesn’t always pull out the full story about a candidate’s past work experience – what they did, or how they did it.

In Today’s Marketplace Its Easy to Change Jobs and Hide Your Tracks

As we watch how employers find and vet candidates in the digital marketplace, and end up making hiring decisions they later regret, we have to believe that one of the underlying reasons is how easy it is for employees to apply for a new job.  Its easy for employees to dodge issues with their performance by simply moving on.  Unfortunately they take their lack of commitment and/or their performance issues with them, which tend to show up in their new role, creating a  “hiring mistake” for an employer who didn’t take the time to check.

If there was one step in any hiring process I would never skip its the reference check.   If the best predictor of a candidate’s future performance is how they’ve performed in the past, there is no one who knows about past performance better than someone who has observed that performance first hand.     

What Does a Reference Check Add to the Hiring Process?

Simply stated the information gained during a reference check provides information that even the best interview, a resume, even a professionally constructed skill or aptitude assessment cannot do – it provides information about what the employee actually did on the job.  Yes, that information can be subjective, an opinion, but the right reference check questions, focused on verifying information not asking for opinion, can mitigate all those downsides.

Only the reference check provides information in the vetting process not provided by the candidate. 

One of the most valuable pieces of information you get from a reference report is just how well a candidate’s self-reports match up with another point of view.

As part of our vetting process, when one of our recruiters checks a candidate’s references, we always ask a past employer to confirm (or contradict) information the candidate provided us in their interview.

Roger said he thought his  employment was in “good standing” with you, when he elected to quit to take a job that he thought would be a step for him in terms of responsibility and pay.  Is that information you can confirm?   

While it can be disappointing to learn that the candidate’s story about their work doesn’t line up with what you learn in a reference check, it’s better to have those “red flags” before you hire rather than 6-12 months later – when a problematic behavior surfaces that would have been detected if you had only checked a reference. 

Disconnects between a candidate’s story and the story told by your reference provider need to signal a deeper dive.

Knowing the difference is what matters.


What do you do when the candidate is currently working and check the reference isn’t possible?

Some candidates will suggest you talk with a co worker or peer in another department.  Rather than spending time talking to someone who has a completely different vantage point than a supervisor, there is another technique you might consider.  How about making an offer of employment contingent on your ability to confirm that the “interview data” you’ve obtained from the candidate match up with what you will uncover in a reference check conducted following the employee’s notice.     This is a risky tactic  for candidates who know their story and their supervisor’s story won’t match up,  but for the employer,  it might be a hiring mistake worth avoiding.

What’s the Story Re: On Line Reference Surveys?

A recent advance is the use of on line reference check technologies to quickly survey former employers about an employee’s performance.   While there are some problems inherent in the process, we have found a way to use online surveys with exceptional results.  We get responses from our digital surveys within hours of queries;  we can uncover false reference information early in the process before our client’s waste time evaluating a candidate whose references will not verify their self-reports.   We also get the benefit of candidates who tend to be more forthcoming in their interviews knowing that what they self-report will be checked with a previous employer.

For our team,  the on line surveys do not replace the need to go more in depth in our reference check process at point just before the client is about to extend an offer.  Talking live with a previous employer is a step in the process we will never replace.

While there’s no one strategy that will eliminate all hiring mistakes, there are pieces of the hiring process that can be improved to reduce the more obvious miscues.  The reference check is one of those. 

Rather than thinking of the reference check as an annoyance to be tacked on at the end of your process, consider using it early in the process to keep the information exchanges between you and your candidate honest.


PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest  employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 40 years.

A  3 time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services (including reference checks) our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees,  contact us at 425-637-3312 or e mail our Partner Solutions  team  at[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *