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How Do Reference Checks Work?

By Michael Klazema on 12/4/2018

In conversations about pre-employment background checks, work history verifications and reference checks are often lumped into the same category. In reality, these checks are different from one another. A work history check involves communicating with the human resources departments at companies for which the candidate used to work. These checks are mostly intended to verify the objective details presented on the candidate’s resume, including job title, responsibilities, and dates of employment. Reference check questions are typically used to get a subjective viewpoint of a candidate.

Many hiring managers will ask each candidate to deliver a list of references along with their resume. References can include both personal acquaintances and business acquaintances. A recent college graduate entering the job market for the first time, for instance, might list a professor or advisor as a reference. More experienced professionals are likely to list bosses, managers, or colleagues from work as references.

Work reference checks are different even from work history verifications. HR representatives tend to be discerning with the details they give out about former employees: they will verify basic facts but try to avoid giving subjective input on the individual in question. This tight-lipped tendency has to do largely with defamation. Businesses can find themselves in legal hot water if they criticize a former employee and ruin that person’s chances at a new job.

When performing a reference check, hiring managers (or their background check companies) have a little more leeway in the questions they can ask. References are individuals that candidates themselves have identified as being able to speak subjectively on their behalves. In most cases, candidates will even contact the people they are listing on their reference lists to ensure those individuals are willing to speak on their behalves.

As a result, reference check questions seek to learn more about a person’s performance, skills, accomplishments, and overall work ethic. A reference check is useful for learning about a candidate’s dependability or character, for finding out about that person’s ability to work as part of a team, and to assess an applicant’s fit within a company’s work culture. What did the candidate accomplish at the previous job? What did the candidate’s coworkers think of him or her? Is the candidate a good fit for the job at hand? How well does the candidate handle criticism? These questions can all be posed during a work reference check.

Reference checks are an extremely useful means for employers to learn more about the people they are thinking about hiring. However, the reference check process can also be extremely time-consuming. At backgroundchecks.com, we offer an affordable way to outsource your reference verification checks. We can contact your candidate’s references, ask important questions, and record the findings in an easy-to-read report.

Using the insight from our reports, you can make more informed decisions on who to hire. Click here to learn more about our reference check product.


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