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