Creative Reference Checks Yield Complete Candidate Picture

In today’s politically correct world, few employers are willing to speak ill of former workers. So is there any point in calling an applicants former employers, supervisors, or co-workers? Since the majority of people provided for Reference Checks are self-reported, they are automatically diluted in value by half. After all, what kind of numskull would include as a reference someone whose evaluation of them is anything less than stellar?

It is critical to note that while former employers are not allowed to say many things that may be construed as negative, nothing prohibits them from saying positive things. What someone chooses not to say speaks columns about what they think of your applicant.

When interviewing potential candidates to perform delicate duties, manage valuable assets, and access sensitive information, it is imperative that employers build a comprehensive picture of candidates they are considering to fill vacancies.

Here’s how to effectively evaluate references and gather valuable information from even the most resistant or trite among them:


  • Ensure the provided references show a wide array of professional contacts, from former supervisors to co-workers as well as a few clients, if applicable.


  • Consult former employers whom the candidate did NOT list as references. Why were they omitted? Linked In can be a terrific way to identify former supervisors, with the aim of checking far and wide, asking each for names of other people that may be able to speak of your candidates abilities. As a general rule of thumb, strive to go deep, and go wide.


  • Ask what management style the references found most effective with the potential employee. The answer will give insight into how well candidates work independently, if they are effective team leaders, and if they know when to seek guidance from superiors.


  • Listen for non-verbal cues. Delaying in answering questions may indicate a reference’s attempt to sugar-coat or dissemble his or her opinion. Do you detect a change in voice pitch or tone? How about sarcasm – “She was such a team player”?


Remember to confirm dates of employment with former companies. In addition to doing Reference Checks, it is imperative to conduct a full Background Check prior to extending an offer of employment.  A candidate for a job who has access to sensitive information, and who has been found to have a conviction on his criminal background check or dependent on the role, if he has been shown to having filed for bankruptcy would not be suitable for  certain roles within your company.


  • Perhaps even more important than the skills and experience that candidates bring to the position is their trustworthiness, work ethic, affability, and strength of character. With a little guile and creativity, reference checks can ferret out valuable information about potential hires before it’s too late.