Forgotten references high risk for HR

Almost one in five references isn’t positive – so why are employers sometimes skipping this vital step?

Forgotten references high risk for HR

When seeking tenants for a rental property, owners or agents methodically and ruthlessly check the tenant’s rental history, with good reason: there’s a lot on the line if they accept a tenant who goes on to trash the place. The same is true in HR, yet careful reference checking has slowly been slipping away, according to one recruitment specialist.

“Sometimes people conclude, erroneously, that there’s no point doing the reference check because who would write down the name of someone who wouldn’t say great things?” says Backcheck president and CEO Dave Dinesen. “There are a certain percentage of people out there who think they’re great and think other people are great but they’re not, and you only find out if you pick up the phone.”

Dinesen said over many years of checking references his company consistently found that 17 per cent of references are negative, or partly negative.

Employers often don’t consider reference-checking to be as important as other stages, but it can help to avoid recruiting an unsuitable candidate, or someone who has misrepresented themselves and their abilities.

Dineson offers these tips for checking references:

  • Eliminate bias. The person responsible for filling the role and doing interviews should not also do the reference checks.
  • Have a company-wide process. Consistency in what you’re asking and in recording what answers you get will ensure you also have consistent results.
  • Ask about specifics: job performance, interpersonal skills, room for improvement, how they respond to criticism. Avoid closed ended questions that would only elicit a yes or no answer. You can’t ask about some obvious factors, such as race or religion, but you also can’t ask about issues such as health, unless there’s a specific factor that’s directly relevant to the role.

What's the biggest surprise you learned from a reference check?


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