How a candidate’s references are checked can vary widely from company to company (and maybe even from position to position).

However, one thing that’s universal is that everybody wants to use reference checks as effectively as possible, so that they contribute to a successful recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process.

With that in mind, below are five tips for checking a candidate’s references:

  1. Collect between three and five references—There are companies that don’t check references at all, and there are those that conduct up to 10.  Neither extreme is recommended.  Between three and five, depending upon the position, will provide you with a nice balance.
  2. Choose the references that are likely to help the most—Preferably, you should contact previous supervisors, but if possible, you might also want to contact peers, mentors, and perhaps even subordinates.  Contacting a supervisor could put a person’s current job in jeopardy, so these other options are also viable.
  3. Go beyond the basic questions—Yes, there are certain things that you must ask about, but you’ll also want to delve deeper.  This includes asking questions about how the person works with co-workers or in a collaborative environment.  Many times, this isn’t reflected on a person’s resume, but it’s just as important as their skills and experience.
  4. Consider checking references later in the process—This allows you to discover what you didn’t learn through interviewing or assessment tests.  This information could include their leadership abilities and/or style and once again, how well they work within a team environment.  Compare what you find out to what you already know about the candidate.
  5. Make sure you’re following the rules—Both state and federal laws exist regarding reference checking, and it’s a good idea to know exactly which rules apply to your company.  There are some companies that will only provide dates of employment, the job title, and salary information, and some even require written permission for a reference check.

However your company conducts reference checks, consider incorporating the tips above into your process.  Many a great candidate has been lost due to ineffective reference checking, and this is a simple way to “screen in” the people you want to hire the most.