One of the most common errors people make when checking references is underestimating the role of the candidate in the employee selection process.  Many employers presume that once the candidate has submitted a resume or filled out a job application, their job is done.

There is also a presumption that, once a prospective employer has asked the candidate to provide references, he/she is stuck with the names the candidate provides.  (By the way, the foregoing presumption goes right to a core belief held by many employers that checking references provided by the candidate is a waste of time.  Why would a candidate ever supply the names of references who would say anything bad?  So what good are they?)  We still occasionally hear that from prospective customers.

If people making hiring decisions see themselves, figuratively speaking, as being held hostage by the candidate’s choice of references, then calling them probably is a waste of time.  But there’s a simple solution to this problem that will not only increase the prospects of references offering useful job performance information, but also cause candidates, who may not be all they claim, to withdraw from further consideration.

Put the responsibility on the candidate to come up with the type of references you want.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to establish a policy mandating that, before any job offer can be made, references must be checked.  More importantly, tell prospective employees that it’s company policy to check references and that you would like to have the names of at least three people they have worked with within the last 5 to 7 years – at least one supervisor, one coworker, and – when appropriate – someone who worked under the candidate’s supervision.  Also, make it clear that the references will be contacted and that they should be expecting a call and should have already consented to serve as references.  Those expectations on the part of the employers should make it clear to job seekers that they need to ask the appropriate people if they will serve as references – and, by extension, if they are willing to answers job performance questions honestly.