Many companies recognize the importance of scrutinizing potential candidates’ backgrounds before offering employment. However, not all include professional references in their screening process. And among those who do contact past supervisors and coworkers, more than a few make significant mistakes. This is unfortunate, as the data you can glean from previous employers is just as important to consider as a candidate’s criminal history, driving records and drug use—if you want to make the best hire. If done correctly, you can obtain valuable information about their past which is likely indicative of their future job performance.
Whether you outsource professional reference checks to a company providing employment screening services, or conduct them in-house, consider these best practices.
1.You should only consider references that have had a direct working relationship with your candidate – preferably a superior. Verify this by a search for the reference on social media so you can confirm they worked together. Contacting friends or golf buddies in not likely to give you anything of value.
2. Be consistent and ask the same questions from each reference you contact. This will give you a greater chance of identifying the candidates true strengths. You’re more likely to get reliable information if each reference’s feedback closely matches the other. Ask related questions that the candidate was asked in the interview. For example, “ how did he/she get along with colleagues?”
The devil is in the details
3. A good interviewer can identify what is valid and what is likely not. When a question is posed to the reference, and a detailed answer follows that includes specific examples; it’s more likely the reference was being forthright. Short answers can be an indication that they don’t have much to say about a certain question you posed, or they don’t have a favorable answer. Look for concrete answers related to traits such as punctuality, leadership, communication skills, ect.
Avoid Asking irrelevant questions
4. Never ask questions that are unrelated to job performance. Discussing anything related to their lifestyle or other non-related questions is a big mistake. You surely don’t want to be sued for defamation or discrimination.
Consistent Background Screening Policy
5. It’s extremely important that you treat every applicant the same. In fact, checking the references of some candidates and skipping that step for others violates employment laws. It could also leave you vulnerable to EEOC lawsuits as an applicant who feels mistreated may believe you discriminated against him due to his race, national origin, sex, religion, age or disability.
This doesn’t mean the employment screening services you use have to be the same for every position within your company. You don’t have to check the driving record of a secretarial candidate, for example, though you would want to do so for a delivery driver. It does mean that you must have the same process for every candidate who applies for the same position—including contacting professional references, if you choose to do so.