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How many times have you decided that the interview went well, chemistry is good and there is no need to reference check? 
Failing to reference check is courting disaster and if you have not “bought a lemon” yet, you will do so at some point in the future.
The reference check – preferably 2 – should support and verify all data gathered from the recruitment process, CV and interview.
It needs to be specific, detailed and thorough. Any areas of concern during the interview process should be addressed and clarified. The candidate’s role and position in the company should be outlined and assurance sought that the person being offered the job, can fulfil all the duties and responsibilities of the role, within the company’s work environment and culture. You have spent at most a couple of hours with the candidate, at a time when the candidate knows they are under the spotlight. You want the opinion/reference from a Manager or Supervisor who has experienced the candidate’s work ethic, expertise and implementation of a role over a period of time.
You need to be able to evaluate the referee’s answers and be prepared to ask questions for further clarification. What was meant, do you both agree on the interpretation, definition of work - explaining the candidate’s actions? What do you do when you sense the referee is hedging their opinion, hesitating in giving an answer, being verbose and not specific? You need to listen to what is being said and not being said. Often what is not being said will give you the best indication of how the candidate will perform in the role.
A glowing reference is great to receive but can it be trusted? In the current employment relations climate, employers are slow to speak openly of a candidates performance in case there repercussions. With experience it is possible to open the conversation up and get to the bottom of the issues that are being skirted around.
It pays to verify the referee’s relationship to the candidate and whether their opinion can be trusted. Be sceptical of cellphones, as often this is an indicator that it is a friend providing the reference check. Ask for a landline telephone number, ring and verify position and employment of the referee. Listen for background conversations and possible prompting of the referee.
An indicator that all is not right, is when the referee does not answer the question asked but prefers to give his opinions; it is almost as if they are following a script.
There is the odd time when it is necessary to contact the candidate’s current employers for a reference. This should only be done after a candidate has handed in their resignation as this will jeopardise the candidate’s current employment. Some employers are shocked and annoyed at the candidate’s resignation, and pride being what it is, need to justify their position. They do this by putting the candidate down and in their thinking ‘getting their own back’. A few carefully worded questions will establish where the referee is coming from.
On the one hand there is the need to be specific and thorough, yet at the same time these questions do not provide the opportunity for the referee to express any concerns or negative observations. The old catch-all at the end of the reference check – “any further comments you would like to make” does not cut it. The reference check should be considered in its entirety and the times for openness and generality encouraged, along with the details of specific questions. 
The reference checking should not be a time of overcoming your gut feel that says “great candidate but?” If your experience and gut feel raises doubt then you are better off not proceeding, calling in a recruitment agency to get employment profiling done, or have them interview the candidate for a second professional opinion. The reference check is a time for verifying information, asking specific questions and having the opportunity for hidden gems from previous employers come to light.
Short clipped answers may suit the referee’s style but they do not give you the breadth and depth that you are looking for. You need to verify the authenticity of the referee. If you can not get the information you desire request an additional referee from the candidate. We would be happy to assist with questions you should ask when reference checking, please call Ruth on (09) 634 0574, or email
It is important to ask the referee whether their comments can be shown to the candidate. Often the agreement of confidentiality will ensure that the referee talks openly and honestly.
Be sure to put the reference in context. Did the job they were doing for the referee suit their private life at that time? What has changed in the candidates life that means they may work or react differently now? 
Questions of health and relationships may need to be explored. During the interview process information may have been withheld relating to a person’s private life that has direct application to this reference. The need for thoroughness cannot be over-emphasised. The reference check should be confirmation of all that has gone before, no surprises!  But if there are anomalies and they are contrary to what you expect, you need to check them out. Dismissing information or putting it in the “too hard basket” is no excuse.

We believe that “People are the CornerStone of every business”. They need to be valued and treated with respect. When recruiting a person into your organisation they need to be professionally and respectfully reference checked.