Checking references

References are normally checked after interviews.

Referees should include previous employers. If the candidate has not provided work-based referees, consider possible reasons why. Maybe a previous relationship with an employer did not end well, or maybe the person has never worked before.

Referees can validate what you have learnt about the candidate in the interview and from their application, so it is worth doing some preparation and managing the discussion carefully. Some tips for a successful reference check include:

  • Contact the referee to find an appropriate time to talk. Someone in a hurry may not give you their full attention.
  • Have a written list of questions to ask each referee and make notes on the answers. Base the questions around the position description, person specification and the interview questions. The point is to verify what you have already learnt about the candidate.
  • Ask mostly open questions – for example, about the strengths and weaknesses of the applicant that are relevant to the position description. You can always ask the referee if they feel they would re-employ the candidate after giving them some brief information about the job you are interviewing for. Ask them if they think the candidate is suitable.