Reference Checking: 5 Tips To Get Great References

imagesI received this question about reference checking from a client who uses my HR HelpLine Service.  The client is the Chair of a human service agency board of directors. Here is the client’s question and my advice:

Client Question: We are preparing to hire a new executive director for our agency. My experience in checking references is that the HR department only verifies employment and nothing more. For this hire, should we even bother trying to do references?

Answer: Absolutely do the references. You would be putting your agency at risk if you failed to do so.

In today’s litigious society, it is often difficult to get employers to provide references. Everyone is afraid they’ll some how be sued for telling the truth about a past candidate. As a result, you get the standard name, rank and serial number response. This won’t do. You need to get solid references so don’t be deterred by these kinds of responses.

To get great references, follow these 5 tips:

  1. Tell the candidate who you want to speak with and have him identify these people. These could include members of his board of directors, current and past managers, staff, customers, etc.
  2. Once you get the names and contact information, tell the candidate to call these people first to tell them that you will be calling. Have them ask the reference to take your call.
  3. Offer to call after hours.  If the reference prefers, call the reference at their home.
  4. Unless your hiring someone for your Human Resources department, by-pass this department. They have been lawyered up and will never give you the straight scoop.
  5. If necessary, utilize a Reference Authorization Form. This is a form, signed by the candidate, authorizing the reference and promising not to sue for providing truthful information.

For an executive level hire, you may also want to go beyond a background check. You may want to do a criminal background check and credit check.

Reference checking is essential to the hiring process. Not doing this exposes the Board and the agency to bad hires and even potential lawsuits.

If you have employee questions, call our HR HelpLine. I provide uncomplicated, operational advice, not legal advice, on how to address difficult employee and organizational issues.



Filed under Compliance, Leadership, Recruitment

3 responses to “Reference Checking: 5 Tips To Get Great References

  1. You can also use an automated reference checking service like the one from It solves all the major issues of traditional reference checking because it is online and answered anonymously. In addition the questions are written by behavioral psychologists to ensure they are job relevant and really predict on the job performance.

  2. Pingback: Compliance: 6 Problem Areas | Uncomplicating Management

  3. Pingback: 5 Frequent and Costly Hiring Mistakes | Uncomplicating Management

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