Reference Checks

For many employers, the whole notion of allowing their employees to serve as references for former employees may sound like heresy! The “no-comment” concept is so deeply entrenched in the corporate mentality of many HR people that even the slightest suggestion that it is possible to allow employees to serve as references is rejected out of hand.

The key thing to remember, however, is that the benefit of reference checking is a two-way street. When you, the prospective employer, ask job seekers to sign a waiver that allows you to talk to his references, is just one side of a valuable coin. Asking departing employees to sign a waiver allowing current employees to talk to the next prospective employer is simply the other side of the coin. Put another way, if you expect a prospective employee to provide references who will discuss a past employee’s job performance, shouldn’t it work the other way when a former employee is asked to provide references for a prospective employer who also wants to discuss past job performance? One could even suggest that there’s a degree of hypocrisy in wanting information about a candidate’s past job performance, but refusing to allow your employees to do the same for a former employee who’s seeking employment.

Here’s what employees should be reminded to do if they agree to be a former employee’s references:

  • Respond only to questions that have to do with job performance.
  • Only offer honestly held opinions.
  • Stick to documented facts.

There’s another factor to consider: You, as an employer, should want to see good employees advance their careers! If an employee has performed well, there is absolutely no reason not to let prospective employers know about it so they can be aware of the quality of that performance while working for your company.

The whole notion of giving, as well as getting, references is consistent with the idea that people who have performed well should be able to ask co-workers to say so. By the same token, enabling current employees to state facts or give honestly held opinions could help another employer avoid making an inappropriate and costly hiring mistake.