Is the reference check a thing of the past?

I would put a high value on reference checks when it comes to forming an opinion on the suitability of a person for a role – as long as they are used properly. The problem is that the threat of litigation has created a situation where many organisations now have a policy of not effectively providing a reference due to the very limited information they are willing to provide. I can understand this completely but it does remove what can be a very useful part of the selection and evaluation process.

There are a variety of organisations that provide candidate vetting services and they have a value in terms of verifying candidate information to cover the situation e.g. where a candidate may have provided incorrect or misleading information or in extreme cases, where they have committed a serious crime. However, this is well short of getting an opinion from a former employer on the person concerned.

In my experience 75% of references are positive and they can also provide useful insights on the person involved which can be very helpful in successfully inducting her/him into the new organisation.

Here are a few pointers if you are taking a reference on a prospective employee:

  1. Check that you have the most appropriate referee, i.e. that the candidate reported to this person for a reasonable length of time.
  2. Make sure you have all relevant referees e.g. employers covering the last 3 roles or 10 years. Watch for omissions.
  3. Have your questions prepared and listen and observe.
  4. Take good notes.
  5. Be aware of legal issues
  6. Be objective and fair.


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