We’ve been doing real reference checking for over 35 years, and I’m still amazed at the number of people who really don’t understand what it means to do a “reference check.” First, references should be people with whom the candidate for employment has actually worked on a day-to-day basis within the last 5 to 7 years. Furthermore, the prospective employer should ask the candidate to provide the names of people who fit that description – not merely accept the names of people the candidate wants the prospective employer to have. More often than not, left to their own devices, candidates for employment will usually provide the names of people who know next to nothing about their overall job performance.
I recall one candidate who provided his mom, brother, and minister as job references! Needless to say, we asked him to provide the names of people he had actually worked with on a daily basis. The result was the name of the president of the company who barely knew the candidate and two functional managers who didn’t even work in the same building with the candidate, but were both on the same bowling team with him! Finally, after contacting the candidate again and respectfully asking for the names of people he actually worked with, we were able to do a real reference check.
As it turned out, all 3 references were able to respond to our questions about the candidate’s past job performance, and he finally got the job. The point is many job seekers and employers don’t really know what reference checking is all about.
Reference checking is an in-depth assessment of past job performance, including questions about such things as strengths and weaknesses on the job, career development needs, ability to work with others, and a description of job responsibilities – just to mention a few of the areas we cover. Unfortunately, relatives and family friends usually don’t know very much about how a candidate for employment has performed on the job.