Facts and Fears About Reference Checks

Let’s assume you’re a qualified candidate for a new job listing. When you apply, you can expect these three things:

  1. An application
  2. An interview for qualified candidates
  3. Reference checks

Obviously, as a background screening company, we’d love to see 100% engagement from employers in screening applicants. It is, after all, the best tool you can use to keep yourself, your company and its assets, and your employees safe. We understand, however, that not all employers use background checks as a screening tool (yet). They rely, much more regularly, on reference checks.

What is a Reference Check?

Let’s be clear. A reference check is NOT a background check. It is, however, often part of a comprehensive background screening process. We’re going to break down what a typical reference check includes in today’s hiring environment, show you how Active Screening handles them, and discuss the difficulties employers and screeners face when using reference checks.

Historically, a reference check has involved calling previous employers to confirm that your resume is accurate. A reference check is a critical tool for verifying candidates’ qualifications and claims about themselves.

There are plenty of instances, though, where ‘word of mouth’ has been used to vet applicants, and it’s becoming increasingly common in the clustered world of fast-paced hiring, especially among creative industries. While reference checks via phone are still popular, email reference checks are becoming the industry standard. Employers seem to prefer the fact they can answer questions on their own time and be more thoughtful with their answers.

What Does a Reference Check Sound Like?

Active Screening works diligently to perform best-in-class reference checks. Typically, Active Screening will work with clients ahead of time to decide on 5 or 6 questions that they’d like us to ask. Since Active Screening is contacting most references at work during the day, it is much easier to get them to respond once they realize it will only take a few minutes of their time, as opposed to asking 15-20 questions or more.

The following are examples of questions Active Screening has used:

  • How long have you known the applicant?
  • In what capacity have you known the applicant?
  • Would you recommend the applicant for hire?
  • Can you comment on the applicant’s work ethic?
  • What duties and responsibilities were assigned to the candidate?  Did he/she complete them satisfactorily?
  • What were the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate their level of initiative?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate them as a team player?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate their level of customer service?
  • How would you describe this person’s overall performance?
  • Please describe a situation that will highlight this person’s level of integrity.
  • Do you have any further comments?

References are frequently more willing to open up with their peers and counterparts.

Here’s a tip: To gain maximum input, whenever possible, use open-ended questions, such as, “How would you describe Ms. Smith’s management style?,” or “Can you describe a situation in which she did something extraordinary?”

Do Employers Really Tell the Whole Truth?

Because employers know that saying too much or too little can have legal consequences, references are increasingly wary of being specific about the performance of past employees. Companies can invite problems down the road, however, by failing to thoroughly verify the qualifications of potential employees. Still, it is not an easy task; reference investigators have to work especially hard to obtain meaningful evaluations.

Reference checks completed via Active Screening have received responses covering both ends of the spectrum – from one word answers to lengthy, detailed paragraphs. We’ve also had situations where people have responded that they don’t remember ever knowing the applicant, and other times when applicants have listed parents or siblings as a reference (when an application clearly requests not to list relatives). For the most part though, applicants usually know to list recent co-workers or supervisors who will provide the best responses.

Do Reference Checks Go Beyond Work Experience?

Active Screening offers customizable reference checks as part of our Verifications package. In addition to employment verification, our team of qualified investigators also perform verifications in the following categories:

  • Education – Many companies require specific academic qualifications for many, if not all positions. Our Education Verifications confirm school(s) attended, diplomas, degrees & certificates earned, dates of attendance, the major of study and GPA.
  • Professional License – Professional license verifications confirm your applicants’ qualifications and authenticates their license and indicates if it is currently in good standing and issued in the candidate’s name.
  • Military Service Record – Confirms military records for candidates. Information obtained will include dates of service, rank, experience, discharge and/or current military status.
We want to hear from you! Have you had a positive or negative experience with reference checks? Share your story below!

This entry was posted in Background Screening, Criminal Records, General, Human Resources, References & Credentialing and tagged , , , , , , , by Patricia Carlson. Bookmark the permalink.

Patricia Carlson is a content writer who specializes in B2C and B2B inbound marketing. She blogs regularly for clients about the background screening and finance industries, and generates newsletters, white papers and email campaigns for a variety of businesses. Patricia also produces a heavy rotation of editorial material for home design, law enforcement, and family magazines. She’s been writing professionally for more than a dozen years, and for Active Screening for more than two of those. Check out LinkedIn for a roster of Patricia's clients and links to published works. When she’s not interviewing sources or researching trends, she’s living a fast-paced Florida life questioning the antics of her two young children, partner and mischievous cat. Patricia loves to talk tennis and TV on Twitter - give her a shout @pattycfreelance.
Active ScreeningBarbara S.
Healthcare Industry

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