6 steps to conducting a reference check

Conducting a reference check

So you believe you’ve found the ideal candidate for one of the compliance jobs your firm has been working to fill for weeks. They have the qualifications, personality and experience necessary to excel. Still, one essential step remains before the hiring process is complete: reference checks.

Reference checking allows hiring managers access to independent information about candidates’ past performance. What’s learned by speaking with references can relate directly to a position’s key selection criteria. Of course, it also helps to validate information supplied by the candidate in the interview.

Here are six steps for conducting an effective reference check:

1. Inform the candidate references will be checked
Best practices call for hiring managers to inform candidates at the start that a reference check will be conducted. Let candidates know your process involves speaking with those who know them best. This will encourage honesty and correctness in the interview. There is also the chance that applicants with poor references will decline to proceed further, saving you valuable time.

2. Perform the check yourself
Busy hiring schedules often leave surrogates to conduct reference checks. That’s a mistake. As a hiring manager, you alone know best what your firm needs in a recruit. Even the best HR departments cannot match your personal level of perception and judgment. You can pick up on red flag comments – or alternatively, promising ones – that would otherwise be missed until further on in the process.

Conducting a reference check

As convenient as phone interviews are, there is no substitute for an in-person reference check.

3. Meet face-to-face if possible
As tempting as it can be to rely on email for communication with references, much is lost by doing so. If possible, important references should be met in person. Speaking to someone face-to-face gives hiring managers a distinct advantage over phone calls. A reference’s body language or hesitancy to answer a question can say more than words.

4. Prepare a general script
Rather than count on a faultless performance in the moment, it’s best to create a general script for each reference check. A planned approach to each interview will keep you focused and maximize the effectiveness of each question. You cannot count on a script alone, though. Be prepared to pursue new lines of questioning if that’s the direction the interview takes.

5. Ask the right questions
There’s nothing wrong with beginning a reference check by asking softball questions. They can help to ease any initial awkwardness and make both you and the interviewee comfortable. When pursuing more relevant lines of inquiry, however, monitor your word choice. For example, rather than ask a former employer what a candidate did wrong, prompt them to describe how the candidate might improve professionally, or, if given the choice, find out if they would rehire the applicant.

6. Check social media posts 
Though not necessary in every case, looking into a candidate’s social media presence can prove illuminating. Publicly accessible Twitter or Facebook posts reveal character, interests and background beyond that found in a resume. Checking a LinkedIn profile also has the potential to inform you of additional references or even shared professional contacts.


OneWire's Recruiting Technology