Yes. Reference checking is, and always will be, a standard business practice. How else can the employer find out if the candidate is all he or she claims to be? Not only that, but of equal importance is whether or not the candidate can do all that he or she claims.

Let’s take a serious look at the many ways employers have carried out the employee selection process. In an earlier time, most people were hired on the basis of just two, and sometimes three, criteria:

  • The contents of their resume.
  • A job interview.
  • Occasionally (but not always) a letter of introduction written by a trusted friend or relative.

Prior to the industrial revolution, some combination of these three criteria were all the typical shopkeeper or craftsperson needed in order to make a hiring decision. Why? Because before the days of industrialization, there were no large companies that employed hundreds, let alone thousands, of employees. Most businesses were very small operations, particularly during the colonial period in this country. The owner usually worked right alongside the handful of people he employed and could readily see if they were doing the job or not. If they weren’t performing up to expected standards, they were usually “discharged,” and they went right on to some other job.

Except for the true craftsperson or artisan, most employees were unskilled laborers who worked as apprentices or were indentured to the business owner. There were no laws protecting workers’ rights. The employee either measured up to the requirements of the job or he didn’t. Since the industrial revolution, however, and the advent of mass production, job specialization has been constantly increasing as the skills required to do a very specialized job have become more and more demanding. As a result it became increasingly important to hire people who already had the experience, skills, and training to handle those specialized jobs. The only way to do that was by checking references.

Another factor that made reference checking more common was the introduction of mass communication and the advent of a mobile workforce. After World War II reference checking outgrew the casual conversation stage and developed into a structured interview with a candidate’s references. Since the 1980s, reference checking, in one form or another, has become more of an art than a perfunctory checklist of yes/no questions. So, for at least the last 70+ years, reference checking has developed into a very standard business practice.