Reference Checks

In Chapter 1 of his book, Reference Checking for Everyone, Barada Associates founder and chairman, Paul William Barada, notes that there still isn’t a universal agreement about the terminology used to describe the exercise of intelligently trying to ensure smart hiring decisions. 

This confusion is particularly prevalent when it comes to personal references. At Barada Associates, we specialize in reference checks that screen both personal and professional references for discrepancies and valuable insight into a candidate’s abilities and professional character.

But what even is a personal reference? Can personal references be family members? Read on to learn everything your company and hiring manager need to know about employee personal references or contact us today for all your pre-employment background screening needs.

What is a Personal Reference?

There are still many job applications that ask job seekers to list personal references. 

In the prospective employer’s mind, this typically refers to work-related references – people with whom the job seeker has worked.  However the term “personal” often conveys the impression that people like Uncle Harry, the parish priest, or even an old roommate would make suitable references.

The problem with using the word personal when referring to references is that the type of folks that come to an applicant’s mind ordinarily know nothing relevant to the candidate’s performance on the job. For job seekers who – despite a specific request for work-related references in a job description – list Aunt Harriet, a distant cousin, or a former teacher as a personal reference, they can often hurt their chances of getting the new job title and waste time in the hiring process.

Why are Professional References Preferred for Employment Screening?

A professional reference can be from business partners, academic advisors, previous employers, or coworkers. These individuals provide information about job-related skills friends might not know, such as work ethic and technical skills.

Regardless of whether the employer has mistakenly asked for a personal reference or the job seeker thinks that work-related references can include their old scoutmaster, personal references, on average, provide much less benefit than a professional reference when it comes to the employment process. 

Personal references aren’t going to know the details about job performance that a prospective employer needs to make the best hiring decision.

Suppose a reference truly is a personal connection. In that case, the chances are slim at best that they will be able to answer questions such as, “Could you describe the candidate’s responsibilities on the job?” or “What do you think the job applicant could have done to improve their overall job performance?” or “How did they get along with other employees on the job?”

The Benefits of Checking Professional References

When you start a job search, you’ll get a plethora of applications and candidates to sift through. A professional reference check is just one tool to help you identify the perfect candidate for the job.

Strong professional references can provide the following advantages:

Assessing Candidate’s Performance

Checking professional references allows employers to gain insights into a candidate’s past performance, work ethic, and abilities directly from previous supervisors or colleagues. This information is often not included in their job application. It helps hiring managers better evaluate if the candidate’s skills align with the requirements of the role they’re being considered for.

Verification of Qualifications

References provide an opportunity to verify the accuracy of the information provided by the candidate, such as their educational background, job responsibilities, and achievements. This ensures the employer is hiring someone with the qualifications and experiences they claim, as well as an honest character.

Cultural Fit Evaluation

By speaking with former colleagues or supervisors, employers can gain insights into a candidate’s interpersonal skills, communication style, and how they interact within a team. This helps assess whether the candidate will integrate well into the company culture and work effectively with existing team members.

Risk Mitigation and Liability Reduction

Reference checks are a precautionary measure for employers to minimize the risk of hiring candidates with a history of misconduct, poor performance, or ethical breaches. By gathering information about a candidate’s past behavior and performance, employers can make informed decisions to mitigate potential risks and safeguard the organization’s reputation and interests.

When you need professional reference checks, contact Barada Associates. We’ve been in the business since 1979 and have the expertise to help you succeed in your hiring process.

What Should Employers Do to Encourage Professional References Over Personal Ones?

Employers can encourage the provision of professional references over personal ones by emphasizing the relevance and importance of professional insights in the hiring process.

One effective approach is to clearly outline the specific qualifications and skills required for the role in the job description. This includes expressing the need for references who can speak to the candidate’s professional abilities, work performance, and accomplishments.

Additionally, employers can guide candidates in selecting appropriate professional references, such as former supervisors, managers, or colleagues. Offering a structured reference request form or template is another way to ensure relevant professional references are provided.

Why Might an Employer Want to See Personal References?

While the distinctions between personal and professional references are important, there are still times when a professional reference can also be beneficial. Some scenarios that can benefit from a personal reference letter or reference check include:

  • Assessment of Character: Friends and family members can often provide a much more in-depth character reference than a professional acquaintance. From their integrity, reliability, and ethics, an employer can get to know the candidate on a deeper level. This is particularly valuable when hiring for roles that require a high level of trust or moral integrity, such as positions involving financial responsibilities or working with vulnerable populations.
  • Soft Skills Evaluation: A strong personal reference can offer a different perspective on a job candidate’s soft skills, including communication abilities, interpersonal relationships, and emotional intelligence. Employers can better understand how the candidate interacts with others in various settings to gauge their suitability for roles that involve extensive collaboration or client-facing responsibilities.
  • Confirmation of Cultural Fit: Personal references can provide valuable insights into a candidate’s fit within the organization’s culture. This is because a family member can speak to an applicant’s attitudes, values, and work habits which are important to maintain a company’s values and ways of working.

Ensure you get the right references from each candidate by developing a detailed, reference policy as part of your hiring process. Potential employers have chosen Barada for their reference check needs for decades – contact us today to get assistance with your next new hire.

What Types of Questions Can Employers Ask Personal References?

If your hiring team does decide to check personal references, several questions can be most beneficial to ask when checking each reference. Some strong questions to ask include:

How are you acquainted with the candidate?

Asking about the reference’s connection to the candidate should be the first step regardless of the type of reference you’re interviewing.

If the answer is something like “Oh, we went to high school together,” or “We go to the same church,” or “We play golf together,” then you know they are a personal reference, not professional, and can move forward according to your unique reference policy.

How does the candidate handle pressure or stressful situations in their day-to-day?

Similar questions include, In what ways does the candidate demonstrate integrity and professionalism?” These types of inquiries will help you shed light on a potential new hire’s character and work ethic.

What strengths does the candidate bring to interpersonal relationships?

Not only does this question provide character insights, but it can also help you get a clearer picture of the candidate’s communication style and other interpersonal skills.

Related questions include: “How does the candidate communicate with others, both professionally and personally?” and “Can you provide examples of how the candidate collaborates with teammates or handles conflicts?”

Can you describe a situation where the candidate had to adapt quickly to new circumstances?

While this question may provoke an answer about a situation from the candidate’s personal life, the story should reveal some of their basic instincts and abilities to adapt and be flexible. If they can do this in their daily lives with success and ease, then they’re more likely to be able to handle change and unexpected challenges in the workplace as well.

Can you describe the candidate’s values and how they align with our company culture?

A personal reference is ideally a person who knows your candidate on a deeper level than most. This person should be able to provide intel on the candidate’s personality traits, personal life, and character that will help you determine if they will be a good cultural fit who can contribute to a positive work environment.

Employers need to ask open-ended questions to encourage detailed responses and ensure that personal references have the opportunity to provide meaningful insights into the candidate’s qualifications and suitability for the position. Additionally, employers should always respect the privacy and confidentiality of personal references and comply with any relevant legal regulations regarding reference checks.

Contact Barada Associates for Reliable Reference Background Checks

Since 1979, Barada Associates has established itself as the premier partner for hiring managers and business owners nationwide seeking comprehensive background checks. Our pre-employment background screening services have garnered a reputation for reliability and compliance, ensuring peace of mind for our clients.

Our tailored solutions include detailed reference checks for both personal and professional references. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help expedite and optimize your hiring process.