Opinion: Reference checking: six simple steps for success

by Tim Griffiths12 Oct 2016
Reference checking - it’s a critical component of the hiring process but the way it is typically conducted has led it to become a burden to HR managers and recruiters. For as long as the process is considered a necessary evil, it will not be done properly and the insights derived will be inconsistent, unreliable and ultimately will lead to uninformed hiring decisions.

There are six simple steps I recommend taking to ensure that every reference check you take is measurable, defendable and resourceful.

1. Ditch the phone

Phone-based reference checking is slow, time consuming and fraught with the risk of human error. Taking references by phone relies on the availability of referees and their willingness to provide the time and consideration required to provide useful feedback. The way in which questions are asked will also inevitably vary between recruiters, resulting in a lack of comparable data across candidates.

2. Circumnavigate discrimination

Reference check questioning should be factual and relevant to role a candidate is seeking. Phone-based reference checking can quickly become conversational, which can easily result in unintended discriminatory and leading questions being asked of the referee, and responses provided that are irrelevant to the role, but may sway a hirer’s decision.

3. Keep it legal

Did you know, legally, you need a candidate’s permission to check their references? It’s one of the most common mistakes made by recruiters and hiring managers during the hiring process and one that can put you and your organisation at risk. Recruiters and hiring managers handle the private information of hundreds of candidates on a weekly basis. Ensuring data gathered is stored and shared in accordance with data privacy laws is critical.

4. Use efficiency to drive effectiveness

Researching a candidate’s background is critical to understanding whether they’re right for the role, but no one enjoys playing “phone tag”. The frustration that comes with using old, laborious processes can result in ineffective and, even, irrelevant information. Introducing efficient solutions will streamline and speed up the reference checking process and deliver useful, insightful results.

5. Leave your bias at the door

Businesses that create standardised questions are able to avoid biased questioning, as well as better benchmarks for candidates. Customised questionnaires also enable businesses to ensure they are using relevant and tailored questioning for each position. Delivering these questions online, without human interference is the final step to enabling an unbiased result.

6. Find the fraudsters…before it’s too late

Added levels of security mean automated reference checking systems like Xref are able to flag responses which may be considered fraudulent. Implement the firewalls necessary to filter out fraudsters before your company hits the headlines for failing to do its due diligence and hiring an unqualified or unsavoury character.

Tim Griffiths is a co-founder of Xref. Mr Griffiths, an MBA-qualified technologist, has 20 years’ experience advising companies, including Virgin and SkyTV. He worked for Benchmark Capital providing technical diligence for high tech start-up investment and was co-founder of media company a2a plc, which floated on the UK stock market. More recently Tim was CIO for Jcurve Solutions, an Australian cloud NetSuite ERP provider.