Finding the right candidate to fill a position opening is a big accomplishment and even a relief if you’ve been looking for the perfect candidate for several weeks or months. In the hurry to get this candidate onboard and working, some hiring managers forget a crucial step in the hiring process – checking a candidate’s professional references.

During a typical hiring process, companies spend a few weeks checking the cover letter and resume of a job candidate, and then interviewing them on the phone or in person two or three times. But talking with a candidate’s references can provide important insight from an outside source, who typically is 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 a candidate should be asked to provide. Barada Associates offers reference check services to assist in expediting the employment reference verification process that employers should complete during the hiring process.

What References Should Employers Request?

The ideal set of references an employee should ask for include a current or former superior/supervisor, a peer, and, if possible, a subordinate. Although it’s not always possible to get that mix of references, every employer has the right to insist that job seekers provide work-related references, no matter what the nature of the association might be.

When thinking of what references you want potential candidates to send, think of what reference check questions you want answered. For example, if you want to know what it is like to manage the potential employee, you’ll want the candidate to submit a reference of their former supervisor. Depending on the reference check questions that you want answered for a position, the references that you want for one candidate for a certain position might be completely different from the references you want for a separate candidate interviewing for a different position. If you make sure to have a list of questions to ask, you’ll have an easier time deciding which references you want to hear from for each candidate.

The idea behind asking for a mix of references is to be able to view the candidate from more than one perspective and over a period of time that’s long enough to be illuminating. How a supervisor viewed the candidate’s overall job performance last year may be entirely different from how a subordinate saw it last month. And 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.

It’s also perfectly understandable that not every job seeker has had supervisory responsibility and, therefore, no one reporting to him or her. In that case, peers and supervisors will have to suffice, but the point remains the same: the prospective employer should be defining the types of references to be provided. If a candidate can’t or won’t come up with the names of people who best fit that description, that should be a red flag, and the employer should probably keep on looking for candidates who can.

Asking Prospective Employees for Specific References

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 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 position offer can be made, references must be checked. More importantly, tell prospective employees that 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.

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 answer job performance questions honestly.

Why Are Three References an Ideal Number?

What’s the optimum number of references an employer should check on a candidate for employment? Is it five, seven, just one or as many as can be found? During the past several decades of reference checks, the background screening professionals at Barada Associates have found the best number to be three.

Why three? Well, 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 obviously not enough. Collecting information on overall job performance from only one reference can present an inaccurate and incomplete picture of the candidate’s skill set. It’s even possible that the reference has been coached by the candidate to provide only positive information.

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. There is little value, at least in our opinion, in contacting that many references. More comments don’t necessarily translate into more information – or better information, for that matter.

Three references, however, provide the best balance of responses about various aspects of job performance. That 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, for instance, that the candidate was told he or she 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, but it requires the third reference to explain what happened. Make sure that you know the whole story and get the best possible picture by interviewing a third reference.

Hearing the same story from additional references really 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.

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.