Reference Checks – How important are they? Tips for employers and candidates

How important are Reference Checks? Do we actually need to do them? Let me answer this straight away. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! And yet in my experience, over 60% of the small/medium size business I would speak to don’t do them. So, below are some tips to consider.

Reference CheckFOR EMPLOYERS

1. A minimum of 2 reference checks are critical even if someone you know has referred them (preferably of people they have reported to).

2. Make sure you provide the referee with an overview of the position and business and important aspects of the role that you are looking for (ie small, large, start up or growing organisation, whether it is very structured or that they need to be self-starters etc).

3. Cover off on what you intend on doing with the information collected.  For compliance reasons you may consider using the following:- “Before I commence this Reference Check, I need to inform you that under the Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000 an applicant may request access to personal information collected by the organisation. The information collected through this process may be disclosed to and shared with <<WHO>> ie Board Members and/or Advisory Committee/Consultants as part of the recruitment process or security organisations as required. Are you still happy to proceed with the reference at this point?                 Yes/No
If they say NO or are concerned about that, that may paint a picture for you.

4. If they cannot give you anyone at all from their current employer (or previous last employment), it is normally not a good sign. There are a few minor exceptions to this rule but not many. Proceed with caution.

5. If you get a negative reference from a person provided by the individual (and believe me, this happens again and again)…..Proceed with caution. Sometimes candidates will just give you names of people they have worked for without checking with the referee. I have had some amazingly bad stories in this instance including the referees actually warning me about proceeding forward. While people can certainly behave differently in different organisations – generally a leopard does not change their spots.

6. Don’t just listen for the positive. Make sure you don’t only ask questions that will support positive responses only.  Ask if they have ever had any issues whatsoever with effectively building relationships within the team/customers or if they recommend any personal development/support for any areas etc. If they were to be a 10 out of 10 employee, what are would they need to develop further in.

7. Always ask referees if they would reemploy the candidate if they had the opportunity. If they hesitate…..Proceed with caution.

8. Thank the referee for their time. After all, remember you are also potentially selling/representing your business. If the person is a referee, chances are, they could also be a mentor and may also influence whether the candidates says yes or no to any offers you may make. Plus….you never know if you may need any additional resources down the track.


1.  Remember how you leave an organisation is critical – clean up your backyard before you leave, hand over well, don’t put down your employer and give your best in the final weeks. Leaving on good terms is essential  when you think about obtaining a reference. Employees who ‘down tools’ once they resign can potentially damage the great work they did prior as employers will generally only remember the last part.

2. Contact your referees before providing them to a company/recruiter. This is just respectful to the referee to expect a call plus it is also important to provide key focus areas that the employer is looking for. Trust me when I say a lot of people are not naturally good at providing references and so you may want to help prompt them. It is also good for you to get a feel about what they may say about you (keep in mind, this may not be positive). The person conducting the reference will also have more confidence that the person clearly knows about the role they are recommending someone for.  There is nothing worse when you go to do a reference check and the person says “I think I may remember that person but I am not sure as I haven’t spoken to them in years”. The next article will cover off on good areas to review during the first 180 days of employment. These areas are also good to cover with referees and ask for a score from 1-5 (5 being the highest).I hope you found the article useful!

Have a great day and until next week!
Best Wishes