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Top 5 Tips When Checking References

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

Checking references for a prospective job candidate often isn't as easy as it sounds. Sure, you've already gone through the tedious process of sifting through piles and piles of resumes, and conducting many time-consuming interviews. But even after all that, there's still one last hurdle before you can ensure that you've really hired the right candidate.

What is that step, exactly? Checking references. What types of references should you ask for? How many should you call before you feel comfortable with your hiring choice?

Here are five tips to keep in mind when checking references:

  • Checking over the phone is the best method. While it may save you time to send questionnaires to your candidate's references, this would also kinda defeat the purpose of checking with a reference in the first place. When you call the reference, it's easier to effectively communicate, and it's also a more direct way to ensure the reference is valid. In the long run, the more you know about your candidate from her reference, the more likely you are to be prepared to avoid potential liability issues.
  • Don't ask disciminatory questions. This includes anything related to the candidate's race, age, religion, or gender. While you may be simply naturally curious, it could also lead to a case of employee discrimination if you know too much about these factors or even question them when they are usually not relevant to the job.
  • Avoid personal references. Avoid calling or even asking for personal references. This includes people like the candidate's parents, their childhood best friend, and their spouse or partner. Personal references are usually a waste of time in that they're naturally going to embellish or only focus on the positives of a person's character. Work-related references are what you're after.
  • Verify as much as you can. Resume padding can to lead to a whole slew of other issues, including questions about your candidate's honesty. Make sure you check out, as best as you can, the candidate's dates of employment, degrees, and any other specialties that she may have listed.
  • Ask for a variety of references. This can include a wide range of persons within the scope of the candidate's professional or job history, including supervisors, peers, and even subordinates. Anyone who can speak to how the candidate works is useful, and you'll want to know as much as possible -- especially, as mentioned earlier, to help avoid potential liability issues.

If you have more questions about how you should and should not go about checking references, you may want to consult with an experienced employment lawyer near you. Good luck in your hiring process!

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