Checking two references before hiring someone is a standard practice for almost every organisation. References help you weed out unsuitable candidates — who otherwise could cost you dearly in high staff turnover and damaged team morale.

References should be an integral part of your pre-employment checks for every new hire. Here’s how to approach them.

Requiring references


If you’re planning to check references for prospective employees, you should start by communicating that requirement to applicants in your advert, job description or application form. It’s reasonable to only make job offers subject to satisfactory references being received.

There are two kinds of references you can ask for: professional references from past or current employers, and character references from someone who knows the applicant well. Character references should come from someone with a credible profession, such as a teacher.

Most employers ask for two references — one each from the applicant’s:

  • Current or previous employer
  • Another recent employer, or a character reference

Treating the job applicant with consideration


Many job applicants prefer their current employer not to know they’re applying for other jobs, until it’s absolutely necessary — i.e. when you offer them the job.

Make sure you:

  • Only approach the applicant’s current employer with their permission
  • Make it clear at what stage of the recruitment process references will be sought — usually it should be after the job offer (subject to satisfactory references) has been made

Don’t let references influence job interviews


Requesting references after making a conditional job offer also means they won’t influence your interview process. Reading a reference before interview can colour your impression of a candidate, so leave it until afterwards.

Using a reference form to request information


When requesting candidate references, many organisations send a standard form or template to the referee. This has two benefits. It makes it easier for the referee to respond, and therefore more likely they will. You can request precisely the kinds of information you want about your prospective employee.

Keep it factual


The information you request should be strictly factual. This is because if an employer gives a reference, workers have a right for that reference to be fair and accurate. References that contain unfounded conjecture could be open to legal challenge — which is why many employers will only provide hard facts anyway.

Information your reference form requests might include:

  • Job title, salary and dates of employment
  • Duties and skills
  • Attendance records
  • Details of any formal disciplinary proceedings

What if a referee doesn’t respond?


Employers have no legal requirement to give references to departing employees. So it’s advisable to have a procedure in place for when references aren’t available — such as using probation periods for new employees.

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