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Reference Checks Aren’t Just A Formality! 4 Important Tips For Conducting Reference Checks

January 26th, 2012

Too many managers are ignoring the importance of getting good reference checks on candidates, either not doing them at all or not doing a thorough job. The most common excuses?

  • The candidate only provides referees who will give them a glowing report.
  • The referee has a grudge against the candidate and slants their reference in an unfairly negative manner.
  • The referee gives you a positive report, because they are afraid of the legal ramifications of saying anything bad.
  • The referee is restricted by a company policy that limits what they can say about previous employees.

Is it any wonder that checking references has attained a reputation of being a waste of time?

Avoiding the Problems

Problem 1: The candidate only provides referees who will give them a glowing report.

Solution: Ask for extra references beyond those supplied on the resume and see if anyone else from the company can verify the information you collected during the interview. These extra people may still give a positively slanted opinion, but it’s harder for them to slant true facts. And, when referee statements are cross-referenced (see below), any holes that exist will show up.

Problem 2: The referee has a grudge against the candidate and slants their reference in an unfairly negative manner.

Solution: Once again, do at least two reference checks per employer. If one of the two is not so good, do a third one as a cross-reference against the other two. If two out of three are good, the bad one can probably be put into the category of a “suspect reference”.

Problem 3: The referee gives you a positive report because they are afraid of the legal ramifications of saying anything bad.

Solution: It’s vital that you get accurate information. If the referee you are talking to is one of those people who is afraid of saying the wrong thing, you’ll find they are far more comfortable simply confirming facts and figures. They will only become hesitant when asked something that invites their opinion.

Problem 4: The referee is restricted by their company policy that limits what they can say about previous employees.

Solution: This situation will be at least partly resolved when the emphasis is placed on the previous employee’s actual results on the job.

Companies that have such restrictive policies generally don’t mind verifying production statistics, or confirming what positions the employee held and what functions they performed. You can generally get more information, however, by digging deeper on the functional aspects. For example, “So, he was involved with collecting outstanding debts. Did the amount of outstanding debts decrease while he held the job?”

The reference check is, by no means, the main deciding factor. But if it’s done right, it can contribute powerful data to the decision process.

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