Checking references

Checking references is a step often skipped in the recruiting process. After interviewing candidates, narrowing them down to a select few, and discussing possible salary and other specifics, many employers forgo the reference check. They either assume everything the candidate stated would check out fine, or they simply don’t have sufficient time to contact the references.

But the tragic event earlier this year in the United States, in which a former news reporter shot his ex-coworkers who were conducting a live television interview, emphasizes the importance of checking candidates’ references.

Following the shooting, several facts emerged about the shooter’s personal and professional life. These facts showed he was a troubled individual whose behavior was confrontational and even violent. He had a history of disruptive and disconcerting conduct, as reported later by his previous employers.

Without placing blame on employers’ thoroughness, this tragedy nevertheless forces us to question whether hiring managers ever checked the shooter’s references. If so, and if hiring managers heard about the shooter’s volatile behavior, would this man have been hired in the first place? Although hiring decisions are seldom a matter of life or death like this example, the situation highlights the need to check an applicant’s references thoroughly.

Checking references is a helpful and necessary step for making a hiring decision. Here are five reasons why checking references is worth the time:

  1. Validating what the candidate says. Some people may be tempted to do almost anything to land a job, embellishing their credentials or straight-out lying on their resumes. A hiring manager can find out the truth about a candidate by contacting his or her references. Ask references to illuminate anything pertinent from the time of employment (e.g. Did the candidate really work at X company for 10 years?), to positions held (e.g. Was the candidate really the president of operations?), and specific tasks performed (e.g. Did the candidate increase profit margins by 20 percent?).
  1. Shedding light on potential problems. Most candidates don’t have significant personal or professional issues to hide, but hiring managers should still try to find out everything they can about a candidate’s past. Contacting references can shed light on issues that may arise in the future. Even if you don’t find out about any serious problems or foul play—since most companies won’t share this information for fear of being sued by their former employees—you may uncover other facts that could spell trouble. For instance, a reference may clarify that the candidate had trouble working in a team or failed to meet company goals.
  1. Going beyond the workplace. Checking professional references, such as a previous supervisor or HR manager, can validate the candidate’s previous work experience. You can also ask for other forms of references to validate information, such as universities attendance, organizational involvement, and even personal traits. All of these references will help to create a fuller picture of the individual and to figure out whether he or she is a right fit for your company.
  1. Helping make candidate selections. Recruiting top candidates is never easy, but checking references can help the process proceed smoothly. If you have multiple candidates with comparable experience and skills, and they’ve all performed well in interviews, checking their references can further narrow the selection to help you pick the best person for the job. Often, a positive (or negative) reference can make all the difference between two seemingly equal candidates.
  1. Saving time and money. All other benefits aside, it’s always worth checking references to save your company time and money. The cost of recruiting and hiring can spike quickly when you have to replace employees that don’t work out. High turnover rates are costly but can be avoided by finding the right person the first time. Checking reference is an integral part of the recruiting process that can save lots of time and money in the long run.

Checking references can help hiring managers to make better decisions and to hire people who will positively impact the company’s future performance. Do you always check your applicant’s references?

Eric Friedman, Author

eSkill Author EricEric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of online skills testing for pre-employment assessment and benchmarking. Eric has degrees in Psychology and Business, and a fascination with matching people with roles they’re best at, and that they enjoy.

A company built on exceptional talent from Internet technology, test development, and iterative product development, eSkill leads as an independent assessment company helping HR departments with relevant and accurate job-based tests.

To learn more about Eric and eSkill, visit the company website at, or contact him on LinkedIn.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pick