Why Checking References is Important

Reference Check

Today, I was reminded of the importance of checking references. While working with a new client and getting up to speed on their HR issues, I was informed about an ongoing legal battle with an employee who was terminated 3 years ago. This employee was let go after only 2 months with the organization for a myriad of reasons, mostly related to performance. After hearing the story, the first question that came to my mind was, “when this person was hired, did you check their references?” Not surprising, the answer was no. They were in a rush to fill the position and they were experiencing pressure from the hiring manager, so they skipped that step. A big, costly mistake.

This isn’t to say that checking references will prevent all bad hires. Of course not, but it certainly will improve the possibility of more successful ones.

Reference checking is a crucial step in the recruitment process. Checking references is your opportunity to verify information the candidate has provided; gather independent information on their previous job performance; further assess their experience level, skill set, qualifications and suitability for the position; as well as dive deeper into some of the grey areas that may have come up during the interview.

Validating information is part of the due diligence process and can prove to be very valuable. I had a candidate, who, for all intents and purposes was ideal – great resume, interviewed well, personable…the hiring manager was ready to make a job offer on the spot. But, when I started looking into him a bit more and the places he claimed he worked, there were many parts of his story that didn’t add up. First of all, he was a thirty-something male who had no LinkedIn profile (a red flag for me) but more than that, there was no information, on the Internet or otherwise, about the last two companies he claimed to work for. When I asked him for references and pushed him for more information, he suddenly became hard to get a hold of, and eventually told me he found another position and was no longer interested. It’s hard not to think that we might have thwarted a potentially bad hire by doing our due diligence.

I’ve often heard people say that reference checking is a waste of time because candidates only provide references that will say positive things about them. Of course, candidates are going to provide references they believe will give only positive feedback. But that’s not always the case. There have been many times that a reference has provided information that does not coincide with what the candidate has said, has raised areas of concern or had negative things to say about the candidate. I had a reference once tell me he was shocked the candidate even used him as a reference. He was the candidate’s former manager and one day while working together, the candidate just got up, dropped the store keys on the counter, and walked out in the middle of his shift, never gave a reason and never came back. A story like that makes you question someone’s reliability and integrity, and will undoubtedly influence the decision to hire.

This is just a few examples of what can happen on a reference check and why you should always perform your due diligence. The cost of a bad hire can be huge in terms of lost time, productivity, revenue, etc. So take the time to arm yourself with as much information as possible on the candidate, so you can make a fully informed decision.

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