Reference Checks


Many employers feel it is essential to confirm the past employment history of candidates for employment.  They, understandably, want to make sure that people seeking employment worked where they said they did.  Usually, the exercise amounts to calling the previous employer and asking for confirmation that the candidate really worked there.
Sometimes, additional questions are asked to confirm employment dates, job title, and eligibility for re-hire.  I couldn’t agree more that confirming previous employment is important – but there’s far more to making an informed hiring decision than just making sure the candidate is telling the truth about where he worked, how long he worked there, his job title, and whether or not the previous employer would hire him back again.
Confirming employment says absolutely nothing about overall job performance, responsibilities on the job, strengths, areas for improvement, ability to work with others, or much of anything else.  It can be inferred that, if a previous employer would hire the candidate back again, then his or her job performance must, at least, have been satisfactory.  But making that assumption is a far cry from collecting sufficient information about overall job performance to make an informed hiring decision – that’s why doing a thorough reference check is so important.
One of the problems that many prospective employers encounter when asking about eligibility for re-hire is that many former employers have a policy that precludes re-hiring anyone who leaves the company.  The typical response is, “We have a company policy against hiring anyone back again.”  The way around that “canned” answer is to re-phrase the question along these lines: “But, if you yourself were hiring people, would you hire so-and-so again?”  Most of the time, references will respond to that question, without hiding behind official company policy.  It is very important, after all, to know if the reference thought enough of the candidate’s overall job performance to hire him or her again!
Simply confirming that the candidate told the truth about where he worked should never be enough.  Insuring that the information provided by the job seeker is accurate is a preliminary step at best, but it’s certainly not the final step in the hiring process.  If a background check is all that’s done, all the prospective employer can really say is, “Well, we know that so-and-so filled out our job application honestly,” or that, “So-and-so submitted an accurate resume.”  Beyond that, nothing of substance about overall job performance can be assumed.  Inferences can be made, but basing a hiring decision on an inference puts the employer on pretty thin ice.  That’s why reference checking is the companion piece to a background check – assuming, as one naturally would, that the prospective employer wants to hire the best people possible for the jobs to be done!