The importance of thorough reference checks

Hiring quality staff members can be quite challenging at times. Regardless of a thorough resume screening, detailed interview questions and analysis of personal behaviour during all forms of interaction will only show you one side of the person. The recruiter will hardly ever experience the applicant in a working environment. Especially when working with children it can be a difficult situation since we as recruiters don’t have children on hand to see the interaction of applicants with children during interviews. The difference between presenting at an interview and caring for pre-school aged children is also quite huge. Needless to say, we need to hire good quality staff and ensure that they perform as Nanny to the highest of our standards.

One great way of learning more about the actual work performance of the future employee are reference checks. While in other countries as for example in Germany verbal reference checks are the exception and applicants only provide written references, we do have the advantage of living in a culture where verbal reference checks are the norm. Nevertheless more often than not, they are considered an annoying waste of time by recruiters and as minor information by applicants. I can tell you that a lot of our applicants don’t even think we would really call their referees.

But we do. All of them. Until we get hold of them. And until we have 3 work related reference checks in total.

Yes, it is time consuming and yes, it involves a lot of messages left and repeating the same questions over and over again to different referees but the importance of detailed reference checks can’t be overestimated.

Talking to previous employers who experience your applicant in the position they applied for provides valuable insight in their job performance, their strengths and weaknesses, their interaction with previous employers and also helps to identify misleading information during the interview such as an exaggeration of the length of employment or the responsibility the applicant had in the previous job.

It will pay back to allocate a good 10 minutes for each reference check, ask detailed questions about specific typical situations within the position such as performance of nappy changes or settling techniques and also include more general questions about communication, work ethic and personal character.

Those questions should be outlined in a script with space allocated to write down each answer in order to be able to read up on answers at a later point of time.

Reference checks are done by the recruitment team members and it is quite crucial that everyone involved in the reference checking process has a solid understanding of skills and qualities needed for the position and how to ask for them.

Besides the ‘hard facts’ gathered at reference checks the recruiter gets an idea of questions where the previous employer hesitates to answer, is vague or doesn’t answer the question directly. It is important to react to those situations immediately and ‘dig deeper’ in order to find out reasons and details for this particular situation.

As reassuring as great references can be, as difficult the negative ones can prove. We do 3 reference checks in order to get various perspectives and it can happen that among 2 great references we have one critical reference. Rather than dismissing the candidate directly it is a good opportunity to give the applicant the feedback and ask for their explanation as well as ask for an additional reference which might prove that this one negative experience was the exception in otherwise excellent work performance.

As a recruiter and as an applicant it is important to pay attention to references. Whilst recruiters should take reference checks seriously it is important that applicants provide only references that can testify on work performance, are available and willing and informed to give a reference.

The applicant should always contact the referee in advance to ask for a reference, ensure that all contact details provided to the recruiter are correct and that the communication between applicant, referee and recruiter is as seamless as possible.

What are your experiences with reference checks? If you have a special question you like to ask every previous employer or if you have special experiences with reference checks please comment below.

The Recruitment Team


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