How to get the most out of reference checks

Reference checks can be annoying.

You’ve already found the perfect candidate, they’ve accepted the role, you’re super keen for them to get started and really learn what makes your business tick. But doing reference checks is holding up the process.

Or is it?

Consider this: you could lose a small amount of time and resource doing the reference checks, or you could lose a large amount of time rushing in the wrong person. Reference checks tell you a lot more about a person than just the bare facts of the prospective employees work history.

Reference checks can be a great indicator of a person’s cultural fit for an organisation. By the time you reach this final point in the recruitment process, you will usually have a good idea of your prospective employee’s skills and experience, but it is that last little bit—whether they will be a good fit with your team and your culture—that’s the hardest to understand when you have only met the person a few times at most.

Instead, consider thinking about your reference checks as risk management. Get it right, and you minimise risk within the business. Get it wrong, and you have cost yourself time and, crucially, money.

Thankfully, asking the right questions and taking the following steps can minimise your risk and ensure you hire the right person the first time.

Adjust as required.  Be prepared to ask some core questions that will help you probe for the information you are seeking, but don’t just tick the boxes. Listening is essential and if you need to, ask follow up questions that dig below the surface answer you have been given.

Respect the referee.  You will get a lot more out of the referee if they are relaxed. Be honest about how long you will need to speak to them for (people are time poor). If they don’t have enough time when you ring, schedule a more suitable time to call.

Ask the right questions.  Uncovering the good, the bad and the ugly is what the reference check is all about. The good reference is easy to get, what you want to know is what challenges to anticipate. But you don’t have to make the referee feel uncomfortable sharing the not-so-pretty side of their employee. Be honest with them and ask the right questions, then they can be happy to share information that can later prove extremely valuable.

Follow these simple steps to complete a robust reference check that will confirm what your gut instinct has been telling you all along.

If the person is right for your company, you should now have a better understanding of what makes them tick, and most importantly, that they will be a good match for the role, and will provide value for your business.

To discuss your recruitment needs, contact Small Business Society and we can step you through the process.


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About Kate Tongue

Kate Tongue is the founding Director of Small Business Society.

She is a qualified and experienced Human Resources professional with more than 10 years of experience across the private and public sectors.

Her particular interest and experience is in managing the employee life cycle, delivering process improvements, and Human Resource strategy.


Looking for more information on the various stages of the employee life cycle or Human Resources in general?  The following may interest you.

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Inclusions for a Successful Employee Induction

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Plus lots more information and advice:
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