Background Checks

If you’ve been searching for the perfect candidate for several weeks or months, then you know what a big accomplishment and relief it is to find the right person for the job. Unfortunately, in the rush to get this candidate onboarded and working, some hiring managers forget a critical step in the hiring process – checking different types of job references.

During a typical hiring process, companies spend a few weeks checking the cover letter and resume of a job candidate and then interview them on the phone or in person two or three times. However, when you also talk to a candidate’s references you can gain important insight from an outside source – one who is oftentimes more truthful and genuine in their comments about the candidate.

In our most recent blog, the background screening experts at Barada Associates discuss why reference checking plays an important role in the hiring process and what type of references you should ask your candidate to provide. We offer comprehensive reference check services as part of our overarching employee background screening solutions.

Our services are designed to help your hiring team expedite the employment reference verification process that is integral to your hiring process. Contact us today.

What is a Professional Reference?

A professional reference is an individual who can attest to a job candidate’s qualification for a professional role based on their personal experience with the candidate’s work ethic, skills, and achievements.

Friends, family members, community leaders, and personal acquaintances who never worked closely with the job applicant are considered personal references and can act as character references. While a professional reference also can be a friend or family member of the applicant, these references differ from a personal reference as they are reserved for individuals the candidate worked in a full-time, part-time, or even volunteer capacity. In other words, professional references are strictly work references.

During a job search, these types of references can be beneficial to candidates as they may speak positively about the individual’s skills and qualifications. For the potential employer, a job reference provides a chance to confirm information on an individual’s job application and help them hire the best person for the job.

It is now required for employers to have a signed release stating an applicant gave them consent to check their references. Otherwise, the practice of collecting and checking a professional reference is not allowed.

Why is Three References an Ideal Number?

So, how many references are the right amount for prospective employers to request? Is it five, seven, just one, or as many as the applicant can provide? During the past several decades of reference checks, the background screening professionals at Barada Associates have found the best number is three.

Why three references? Three references provide the best balance of responses about various aspects of job performance. A third reference frequently serves to clear up any inconsistencies between the other two. Reference number three can also directly address any areas that are unclear or need explanation.

For instance, suppose a reference who worked with the candidate three years ago says the candidate’s verbal communication skills weren’t very good. Then, suppose the second reference, who is still working with the candidate, says the candidate’s verbal skills are outstanding. Very often, the third reference can explain the difference in the responses.

It could be that the candidate was told they needed to improve their verbal communication skills and took a course in public speaking. That would explain the difference in the comments by the first two references. Make sure that you know the whole story and get the best possible picture by interviewing a third reference.

The Pros and Cons of Checking the Wrong Number of References

Hearing the same story from additional references adds nothing to the overall picture of the candidate’s job performance and suitability for the position to be filled; and, without the third reference, the disparity between comments could unnecessarily raise a red flag about the candidate’s skill set.

Checking two references can leave unanswered questions, conflicting responses, or even leave you with more questions to ask than you originally had. One reference is not enough. When you collect information on overall job performance from only one reference, it can present an inaccurate and incomplete picture of the candidate’s skill set. It’s even possible the reference has been coached by the candidate to provide only positive information.

On the other hand, using a reference check on more than three references can often be redundant, unnecessarily repetitive, and time-consuming. It’s not uncommon, however, for some employers to want to contact as many as a dozen references in particularly high-level or critical positions.

In our experienced opinion, there is little value for hiring managers to contact that many references. More comments don’t necessarily translate into more information – or better information, for that matter.

What Types of Job References Should I Ask For?

When thinking of what reference you want to request from potential candidates, think of what questions you want the reference check to answer. For example, good references would be able to let you know what it was like managing the prospective hire or what it was like to work under their management.

In some cases, the types of references you want vary depending on the type of position. By compiling a list of questions to ask references, you’ll have an easier time deciding which references you want to hear from for each unique candidate.

While every hiring scenario is different, ideal types of references have emerged over the years, including:

  • Superior or supervisor
  • Peers
  • Subordinate (if applicable)

These can be academic references, such as the advisor of a student publication, former employees, current managers, or simply a coworker the candidate worked closely with at any point in their job history.

Although it’s not always possible for a candidate to provide that exact mix of references – maybe they’ve never held a management or leadership position over other employees – every employer has the right to insist that job seekers provide work-related references, no matter what the nature of the association might be.

Why Should I Ask for Different Types of References?

The idea behind asking for this mix of references is so you can view the candidate from more than one perspective and over the full course of their experiences.

How a supervisor viewed the candidate’s overall job performance last year may be entirely different from how a subordinate saw it last month. Both of those perspectives may be different from that of a former co-worker who had a completely independent view of the candidate because there was no direct reporting relationship.

In the end, potential employers should define the types of references they wish for candidates to provide. If a candidate can’t or won’t come up with the names of people who best fit that description without an explanation, that should be a red flag, and you should probably continue looking for candidates who can.

Asking Prospective Employees for Specific References

Now that we’ve laid out the basics, let’s talk about how you go about getting a good reference list.

There is a presumption by many hiring managers that they’re stuck with the references the job candidate provides. There’s a simple solution to this problem that will not only increase the chances of references offering useful job performance information but also cause unqualified candidates 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 position offer can be made, references must be checked.

More importantly, tell prospective employees it’s company policy to perform reference checks and that you would like to get the names of at least three people they have worked with within the last five to seven years – at least one supervisor, one co-worker, and someone who worked under the candidate’s supervision if applicable.

Also, make it clear you will be contacting the references 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 answer job performance questions honestly.

When Should I Request a Peer Reference?

In the hiring process, there are some discrepancies about when is the right moment to ask for a peer reference – or any kind of reference. Usually, employers request a reference list as a part of the initial application. Along with a cover letter and resume, asking for this list up front helps you paint a full picture of the candidate right from the start.

Once you have the list, you can use your discretion to decide when to check the references the applicant provided. A good reference check typically involves a phone conversation. To save time in your hiring process, many employers choose to conduct the check toward the end of the process when they’re almost ready to make an offer to a candidate.

What Kinds of Questions Should I Ask a Reference?

Once you have an ideal reference list in hand and start making calls, you may find yourself unsure of what questions to ask.

Again, compiling a list of questions to ask potential references at the start of the hiring process is the most beneficial. It can also save you time down the road and help expedite the hiring of a qualified candidate. The goal is to ask questions that will reveal truly useful information.

Before you ask any questions though, it’s important to tell references their answers will be confidential – they won’t be shared with the candidate so references can be completely honest. Some of the best reference check questions include:

  • How long did you and (candidate) work together?
  • Did (candidate) have any major accomplishments while working with you?
  • What are (candidate)’s greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
  • In your experience, does (candidate) work better alone or with a team?
  • Why did (candidate) leave their previous workplace?
  • Would you rehire or work with (candidate) again?

Contact Barada Associates for Your Company’s Background Screening Needs

We hope this blog provides some insight into the importance of asking job position candidates to not only provide references but to also provide the types of references you’re looking to speak to.

Barada Associates was founded in 1979 and is one of the nation’s first employment screening businesses. We’re a people-first company whose goal is to find the right talent and create a safe working environment for their customers, employers, and society. Contact Barada Associates to request a quote or to schedule a meeting today.