When should I check references in the hiring process?

September 28, 2022
Mikaella McInerney
When should I check references in the hiring process?

The recruitment process is full of tricky timing. You want to move fast—but not so fast that you rush and make a bad hire. You want to take time to get to know your candidates—but not so much time that someone preempts you and snaps up your best candidate before you can make them an offer. You want to make sure that you keep a candidate interested—without overwhelming them. It’s a delicate balance for any recruitment team to manage!

Reference checks add an extra layer of delicacy to timing, because sometimes candidates will be unwilling to give reference details until they’re sure they’re going to get a job offer. This is often fair enough: if your candidate gives their current manager as a reference, the manager might not be delighted to hear that their employee is looking for a new job. If you don’t end up making the candidate a job offer, this could put them in hot water with their current employers, which isn’t fair.

Another issue is that jobseekers often apply for dozens of jobs in the search for their perfect new role, and while they might be happy to go through the time consuming recruitment process for each potential role, they probably don’t want to drag their references through it, too. Providing answers to a reference check takes time and effort, so a candidate won’t want to bother their references with every potential role, but rather only ask for the reference when it seems certain that an offer is forthcoming.

In this article, we’ll break down the importance of reference checks, and tell you exactly when you should ask for references in the hiring process.

What is a reference check?

A reference check verifies the information a candidate provides during the hiring process, as well as gathering candidate feedback from former peers, colleagues and managers. It’s a hugely significant part of the recruitment process, as one of the most important pre-employment checks a hiring team carries out before bringing a new employee onboard.

During a reference check, you’ll collect 360° feedback on a prospective employee. As such, depending upon the role and the candidate, you might contact a candidate’s former managers, direct reports, peers and even teachers. (These people are known as “references” or “referees”.) You can use this opportunity to find out more about your candidate’s strengths, working style and areas for development, from someone who knows them really well.

For more information on what a reference check is, the difference between a reference check and a background check and more, check out our complete guide to reference checks.

Why should I check references?

There are a couple of important reasons why you should always check references before hiring someone.

You reduce the risk of mis-hiring. Hiring the wrong person for a role can damage your organization’s culture, outer reputation, slow down your work and cost you a lot of money! Taking the time to conduct reference checks to get a sense of your candidate’s skills, behavioral style, strengths and weaknesses offers you an extra chance to spot any potential red flags or reasons why the candidate might not work out for your organization. It’s an extra step along the way that saves you lots of time, energy and money in the future.

You verify the information a candidate has given you. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that people lie. Some lies might be outright, like a candidate pretending they have a qualification they don’t. Some might be more subtle, like a candidate reframing a sideways step in an organization as a promotion. Checking in with their referees to get confirmation on your candidate’s professional and educational history is a great way to spot any mistruths or mistakes.

You reduce hiring bias and identify the best candidate. By conducting a reference check—especially using an automated platform like HiPeople—you reduce unconscious bias by comparing candidates across key variables, such as experience and skill set. It means that you don’t hire someone based on the best “vibe” but rather data-driven and accurate information to ensure you pick the best candidate from the pool.

You support your managers and improve employee onboarding. Reference checks are a useful place to get information about working style or employee needs, which means that you can pass on this information to the candidate’s new manager and input it in the onboarding process. That allows for a more streamlined and tailored onboarding which gets your new employee up and running!

When should I check references?

As we mentioned above, checking references works better later in the game. You don’t want to waste your candidate’s time, their referees’ time, or your own time. Only check references when you’re sure you want to hire that candidate.

That means that checking references should be the last step in the recruitment process. You could frame it to your potential candidate in a couple of ways. Try:

  • “We’d like to make you a conditional offer for the role, pending on reference check responses.”
  • “We want to hire you. Our last step before sending you an offer is reference checks.”

Make sure you’re being completely transparent at this stage. If other candidates are still in the running, let your candidate know. But ideally you should have narrowed it down to one person you want to hire, as long as their references come through positively.

Need help conducting your reference checks? We help you hire better and faster with our automated reference check process. Book in a free demo with a member of our team today.