HR professor

Reference Checking for Job Applications

You have found your dream employee. She has all the right qualifications and experience. She passed her interview with flying colors. She has even agreed to your payment terms without a hiccup. So what's the problem? You should hire her immediately, shouldn't you?

A smart manager would do a bit of homework before offering the job. My advice to managers would be: read the fine print. If you have a great catch in your clutches, chances are that you have not examined the catch well enough. Many managers overlook the importance of reference checking. It seems like a waste of time. These are the typical reasons given against reference checking:
  • No real data is ever found out about the employee through reference checking.
  • The referrer may have a vested interest in giving positive or negative feedback.
  • Reference checking makes analysis difficult.
I don't deny these reasons as irrelevant. However, one has to see the tradeoff between the two options. With reference checking, you can:
  • Discover new information, which is not revealed through interview
  • Establish the veracity of the employee's track record
  • Corroborate the opinions of the referrer with available facts
A systematic process of reference checking ensures that the information is not confusing. Here are some points to keep in mind:

Verify the relationship between the referrer and the applicant
This is probably the best place to start a full-scale examination. Check about the nature of relationship between the referrer and the applicant. An ex-professor is a good referrer, but there has to be substantial interaction between them to warrant a detailed reference. If the ex-professor hardly knew your candidate, then the reference would not be of much use. If possible, insist on references from people who have had substantial interaction with your candidate.

Sort out the accolades from the facts
Some reference letters are full of adjectives to describe an applicant. These fluffed up nonsense lend no credibility to the writer or the applicant. Look out for such references. Read the letters to accumulate information about the candidate. Then, verify the accuracy of the facts stated in the letter by interviewing the candidate. This will help you gauge the significance of the achievement.

Multiple References
In the case of reference checking, the more, the better is not a good thumb rule to follow. Rather stick to a limited number. However, it is good to get references from a cross section of people. So a good rule is to have one reference letter of each: (1) a professor or academician (2) a superior or ex-boss (3) a member of a social institution, if the applicant is an active social worker. You can cross verify information to check for any discrepancies. For example, if the reference letter from the professor claims that the applicant is hard working, check if there is a mention of the same trait in other reference letters too.

Phone based reference checking
References can also be verified over the phone. Before making the phone call, make sure to have a list of questions ready. Have a column where you can note down facts or interesting details. Pose specific questions like "Can you tell me how was X's relationship with her colleagues?", rather than asking, "Can you tell me more about X's working style?" If you ask specific questions, you will get specific answers. If a person is being vague about the answers, press for information without sounding too nosy.

Reference checking could be done intelligently if planned and executed well. It can be an important tool for recruiters who want to zero in on their final candidate.

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