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3 Important Things to Do During a Reference Check to Save Selecting the Wrong Candidate

More than once I’ve been asked by clients to intervene or provide advice with regards to problem employees. I always believe that if you have a thorough recruitment, induction and review process, you eliminate a lot of potentially problematic employees. A crucial part of the this process is reference checking. Allowing someone into your business without conducting a reference check, is like allowing a person off the street to wander about your home!

Once you have a shortlist of applicants always check the following three things:

1) Local and national industrial relations websites: Each state has their own state based industrial relations tribunal. When you get to the website, you can search on that individuals name to find out what industrial relations issues they have been involved with.

One of the best lessons I ever learned early on in my entrepreneurial ventures was that there are some people out there who specialise in taking employers to industrial relations. If you find their name on a site, you will also be able to access the findings of the decision. Read through it and if required, ask them about it in a follow up interview.

2) Google the person: The internet is an excellent reference source. Enter their name into the major search keys. See what comes up. You would be amazed how much information you can glean on a person from the internet!

3) Police Clearance Checks: If you are in an industry or profession that requires police clearance checks, then make sure that you sight it, take a photocopy and place it on their file.

In addition to these checks, you also need to phone the referees listed on their application.


Reference checks themselves are extremely important as they allow you the opportunity to speak directly to an employer who has had experience working with this person. Normally a person will never give you a bad reference, but at least you have the opportunity to drill into their work ethic. When contacting referees, remember that they are giving you their time for free. So respect that.

So, what do you ask when conducting a reference check?

Always mention we’re you’re from and what you’re calling about. Something like “Hi Bob, it’s Tabitha Wellman from Innova Business Momentum. I’ve been given your details from Amanda Brown as a referee. She has applied with us as a Marketing Manager. Bob, have you got a couple of minutes to speak about Amanda?”

If they’re okay to continue, then ask questions about the applicant such as:

– “How long have you known Amanda, and in what capacity?”

– “What would you say are her strengths?”

– “What opportunities for further development did you identify during her time with you?”

– “How would you describe her contribution to your business?”; and,

– “Would you reemploy her if you had the opportunity?”

Also ask for any other additional thoughts or comments about the candidate.

Always try to keep the reference check brief and resist the temptation to talk too much about yourself. One of the things that I noticed that I used to do was only listen to the things that I wanted to listen to. If I was keen on a candidate, I would almost lynch the referee if they said anything disparaging about the applicant! The referee may ask you what sort of job the candidate is applying for. If so, then give a brief overview and highlight any key areas of importance.

For example, “Amanda has applied for a position as a marketing manager. She would be putting together a marketing plan, looking at creating marketing strategies then ensuring that they’re implemented into the business. In your experience, do you believe that she’s up to that?”

This process may seem onerous and yes, it does take time to do it correctly. However the investment you’re able to make into any new employee is well worth it. To make this process easy for you, refer to the 22 Essential HR Templates workbook which you can purchase from our website, and you’ll see that there is actually a Reference Check script and Fax Back form that you can use during this process.


So what happens if someone is from overseas? Do you do what most people do and simply ignore the reference checking phase? Definitely not!

If you have been given referees who are overseas and on a completely different time zone to you, then, create a standard reference check fax form that you can send through to them. In my experience, most people will respond pretty much straight away – it’s very rare that they don’t respond. But make the form easy for them to respond to as well – this will increase your response rate. At the top of the page, make sure that you outline who the reference is for, then put a note asking “please could you confirm the following:”

• Date employed from and to

• Their Position in the company

• Would you re-employ YES / NO

• Their reason for Leaving

• Was he/she honest & trustworthy? YES / NO

• Did he/she work efficiently unsupervised? YES / NO

• Was he/she punctual and regular in attendance? YES / NO

• Any other comments:

• Ask them to sign the form and fax back to you.

Also ensure that you thank them for their time on the fax.


Once you have done all your reference checking, once again sit down and decide on what this information means. If it raises any questions, make sure that you speak further with the applicants about it and have those concerns allayed.

Reference checking is a critical part of your recruitment process. Remember, it’s always better to be embarrassed by asking about a brilliant employee than regretting your potentially expensive decision down the track!

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