How to Perform Effective Reference Checks

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Reference Checks – Challenging but NecessaryIn an increasingly litigious society, performing reference checks has never been as important or as challenging. When you’re hiring someone who will work with controlled substances, patients, children, or is in a position of financial authority, gathering as much background knowledge on the candidate could be critical.

Taking an applicant at his or her word for experience and credentials is never sufficient. The Society for Human Resource Management reports the most common resume lies:

  • 62% skills
  • 54% duties/responsibilities
  • 39% title
  • 31% employment dates
  • 28% academic degrees

With that level of exaggeration, reference checks become even more important. However, getting them and getting revealing information can be difficult. Many employers are loath to provide detailed reference information in fear of lawsuits; they verify dates and titles only. For the hiring manager, the missing data could be crucial. How to get around the dates and titles verification? Here are some tips to getting references that are usable and revealing.

Verify Verification

First and foremost, get verification from the candidate that checking references is acceptable. Getting approval before checking references could mean the difference between getting someone fired and getting into a bidding war.

Personal Business References

If candidates are aware their companies only provide titles and dates, ask for personal business references: people with whom they have worked or who would be willing to speak to their experience. If candidates can’t provide anyone willing to talk on their behalf, it might be a red flag.

Real recommendations

Candidates may offer impressive letters of recommendation, but it’s important to confirm with the letter writer and verify that this person was in a position of authority over the candidate. Company letterhead is no rare commodity: unscrupulous candidates often write their own letters of recommendation, knowing few are verified.

In a pinch, ask the candidate for past performance evaluations. Again, verify they are legitimate before making a hiring decision.

References in Writing

For positions of authority or those who can place your facility at risk, ask for written references. Contact the persons whose names you have been given, and ask for their email addresses so you can send questions to them. You might even suggest they can do so at their leisure if you email them.

After the usual pleasantries, include a statement to this effect:

(Candidate’s name) is being considered for a position that will involve xxx, (working with children, assuming patient care, handling controlled substances or money, etc.). These references will become a part of the candidate’s personnel file and will be referenced, if necessary, in the event of any claims or suits against the employer. Please be as complete and thorough as possible with your response, particularly with regard to these areas of interest.

If a problem does arise, you will have performed your due diligence with regard to hiring. Employers who know a reference is a written part of the record that could haunt them in the future (particularly if they won’t reveal negative information) will rarely respond: a significant red flag for employers.

Ask Creative Questions

If an employer won’t provide more than dates and titles:

  • With more than half of candidates exaggerating their duties, ask about the job the candidate held instead of his or her performance. Did the job include supervising, handling firearms, managing money? If possible, ask for a copy of the job description to compare responsibilities candidates claim to have versus the official version. Make sure the employer is providing one that’s current and accurate.
  • Ask if the employee was eligible for promotion. This could reveal if the candidate was a star or a slacker.
  • Ask if the employee would be considered for rehire. If the answer is no, it could be a red flag.

Reference from References

Candidates will always provide names of people who will give them a glowing reference, but you need the whole story. Tell the glowing reference (not the candidate) you just need one more reference to make the hire, and ask if he or she could refer you to someone else that might have good things to say about the candidate. If they’re hard pressed to provide a name, it may be a bad sign.

Verify, Verify, Verify

Everything that’s included on a resume should be verified – education, certifications, licensure, experience. With over 25 percent of applicants admitting they fudge on their degrees, it’s important to assume nothing. Check for any disciplinary actions, claims, or lawsuits, as well.

With references more difficult to acquire, employers need to be creative, thorough, and determined. Why hire someone else’s problem?

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