Recruitment & Selection
Seeking Reference Reports
Reference checking is an essential part of the selection process and must be carried out in all circumstances. Selection panels should nominate a member (usually the supervisor), to obtain a verbal report of the applicant’s skills and abilities from referees nominated by the candidate.
You should get the candidate’s approval first to check the referees provided, to give the candidate the opportunity to notify their referees that they will be contacted. If the panel wishes to pursue additional referees of their choosing that will give needed insight into the applicant?s business and educational background, it is very important to seek the candidate’s permission to do this.
Caution: Discriminatory questions must not be asked. Questions asked of referees and of previous employers are subject to the same legal constraints as those asked of the applicant. Case law shows that prior employers have been deemed liable for unreasonably withholding pertinent job history information.
Confidentiality is also a must. The information you find out when you check references must be kept confidential to the selection panel. FOI (Freedom Of Information Act) protects referees reports from scrutiny by the applicant.
- Refer to the selection criteria and required skills and behaviours;
- Identify gaps in information gathered in relation to the selection criteria;
- Use open ended questions to ensure referees address these gaps in information;
- Ensure questions to referees seek to confirm information already gathered;
- Use behavioural questions (STAR) to gather information;
- Test ‘gut’ feelings regarding the applicant.
Who should you contact?
It is normal practice to contact only those referees supplied by the candidate. If you are concerned that those referees will not be able to provide the information you require you should ask the candidate for other referees. You are required obtain the candidate's permission to contact other referees.
A common problem in reference checking occurs when you need to reference check a candidate whose only significant work has been at the organisation where he or she is currently employed. If the applicant has not told his or her supervisor that he or she is looking for a job, the supervisor will not be listed as a referee. You should seek permission from the candidate to contact their supervisor.
An alternative in this situation is to check information from the following (but seek permission from the candidate first):
- ex-employees of the organization;
- clients and business associates in other firms;
- fellow workers in the organization.
As in any interview, it is important to be sensitive to what is not said, to what is implied, and particularly to areas of obvious avoidance. Pauses in a reference interview can be very revealing but are only clues. They should lead the person doing the reference checking to follow-up on these areas during the phone interview.
Suggested reference checking process and some sample questions
The following is a process that may be followed when reference checking:
- Introduce yourself. Get on a first name basis where appropriate.
- Make sure you are talking with the RIGHT PERSON. Determine whether the person is able to evaluate the applicant's capabilities sufficiently to serve as a reference. Did he or she supervise (interact with) the applicant? How long? When?
- Explain the purpose of the call and give the name of the applicant being checked;
- Ask if it is convenient for the person to speak candidly with you;
- Emphasise the confidential nature of the call;
- Use the application and interview guide to compare stated information against reference information;
Start with checking some facts of employment:
- How would you describe the major duties the candidate performed in the position?
- How long was the candidate employed?
- What was their reason for leaving?
- Ask behavioural questions;
- Now I would like to explore some specific aspects of the candidate's work with you. (Management style, breadth of experience, judgement);
- Follow up on hunches/impressions/concerns from the interview.
- Ask some Tough Questions
- Since none of us are perfect at everything we do, please describe some of the tasks the candidate is challenged by/had trouble with?
- What do you see as the candidate’s greatest strengths or assets?
- All employees do not like other employees. What kind of people did the candidate have problems with?
- You are saying the person was very able. Why did they leave the position?
- When there was a particularly urgent assignment, what steps did he/she take to get it done on time?
- Since none of us are perfect at everything we do, please describe some of the tasks he/she was challenged by.
- We sometimes need to work with difficult employees. What kind of people did she/he have difficulty working with?
- What are the skills this person needs to work on?
- Would you re-employ this person?
- Anything else you (reference) can say to give us a complete picture about this applicant, so that we can make a good recruitment decision?
- Thank you for your time (Assure confidentiality);
- Note the date of the discussion.