Taking references and what to ask

11 February 2020

By Lisa Veale

​References should be an essential part of the recruitment process. We're always surprised how few companies do and how many see it as an administrative ‘box ticking’ exercise. Quite often it happens after the new hire has started.

References are essential

References should be an essential part of your recruitment. They should be followed up either before (with the applicant’s permission) an offer is made or as soon as possible afterwards. Taking a reference is your opportunity to speak to the successful candidate’s previous line manager/company. This helps to ensure that what you’ve been told is accurate. It also makes sure that there were no performance, attendance, or other issues that you should be aware of.

No matter how strong your interviewing skills/intuition is, it’s foolish to not use this opportunity to back up your hunch with fact.

Your recruitment agency won’t, unless negotiated, take references on your behalf.

Explain to the successful applicant that the job offer is subject to satisfactory references. Ask for the details of their 2 most recent employers, or university/college lecturers if the candidate has just left full time education. We wouldn’t bother taking personal references.

Ask the candidate what they think the referee will say about them. Any potential issues can then be brought to the surface early on.

Get on the phone

Take a reference verbally in the first instance where possible. Referees are more likely to be candid in a situation where they feel they can talk ‘off the record’ and you can therefore encourage an open and frank conversation.

Prepare a small number of open questions which will allow you to delve into the candidate’s performance, attendance and attitude. I would normally start by checking dates worked and job title, outlining the role they’ve been offered and the qualities/skills that are important and then asking whether the referee feels the role is a fit.

Other questions could be around reliability, loyalty, integrity, relationships with management/co-workers, performance, promotions/demotions etc.

Some companies won’t give a full reference and will only confirm dates worked, but most will.

You won’t regret spending time taking references – but may look back in the future with regret it if you don’t.

As always, if you’d like to talk more about this please do get in touch with the Sarah West Recruitment team on 01392 873813.

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