Reference Checks

In the field of reference checking, there are two types of references.  The first type is supplied by the candidate.  The second type is “developed” by talking to the candidate’s references and asking them who else would have known and worked with the candidate.  In simple terms, they are references the candidate doesn’t know are going to be called.

Many people feel that developed references are more valuable than those provided by the candidate.  While that may sometimes be so, there are all sorts of potential problems with using developed references.

First, depending on whether the candidate signed a release allowing the prospective employer to contact anybody who might be even remotely familiar with the candidate, contacting developed references could easily be considered as an invasion of privacy.  Second, suppose the developed reference lies about the candidate; and, as a result, the job is not offered.  Now we’re talking about a civil suit for wrongful denial of employment against the employer and a civil action against the developed reference for slander.

While some may argue that the chances of the candidate finding out that developed references were used is unlikely, what if the person contacted as a developed references goes to the candidate and says he had a call inquiring about him?  Worse yet, suppose the boss finds out that the candidate/employee is looking for another job and fires him on the spot!  All sorts of legal actions could result.  The risks of going behind the candidate’s back to contact developed references are just too great.

The far better approach, which also puts the prospective employer in charge of the reference-checking process, is to require the candidate not only to sign a comprehensive waiver, but also to specify the types of references desired.  We always recommend asking for the name and current contact information of a former superior, peer, and subordinate.  While that mix of references isn’t always possible, it really is an ideal set of perspectives from which to evaluate the candidate.  More importantly, the candidate will be fully aware of who’s going to be contacted and, undoubtedly, will have contacted them first to ask them if they would be willing to serve as references for him.  Assuming they agree, they’ll be expecting the call when you, or the references checking firm you’ve wisely asked to do the checking for you, calls!  That means, furthermore, that those people contacted will be far more likely to talk to you or your agents – the reference checking firm you chose.

Of equal importance, you will have eliminated nearly all of the legal pitfalls associated with contacting people who constitute “developed” references.  Asking the candidate to supply the references is also a far more honest and above-board way to go about the reference checking process.  The final piece of the puzzle is making sure the people who are  making the reference calls know what they’re doing in terms of what to ask and what not to ask – another reason for selecting an outside firm that has experience and expertise in thorough reference checking!