Checking references is one of the most valuable and important pre-employment checks you can make. A careful approach can help you recruit the right people, while avoiding damage to your organisation’s performance, morale and staff turnover.

You also need to make sure your approach to references is legal and ethical.

And when you outsource the hiring process to a recruitment agency, it’s vital to make sure references are still being used properly. Here are some useful ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to help you get references right.

DO: Request references only after making the job offer


It’s good practice to request a reference after you’ve interviewed the candidate and offered them the job. One reason is that reading references could influence how you perceive the candidate at interview. Another is respect for the candidate, who may not wish their employer to know they’re looking for another job until necessary.

DON’T: Be careless about requesting references


You should however always request references before inking a new employment contract. Without references, you’re much more likely to make a costly recruitment misstep. The damage to your organisation could include higher recruitment costs, reduced morale, and legal issues.

DO: Carry out other due diligence


The bare minimum for conducting pre-employment checks is to establish that your new hire has the right to work in the UK, and doesn’t have a problematic criminal past.

You have wide discretion within the law to decide not to hire someone based on their previous behaviour. Evidence of past theft, fraud, violence, bullying and even failure to follow safety procedures are all valid reasons to reject a prospective employee.

DON’T: Share ‘blacklists’ of unsuitable employees


If you discover a valid reason to reject a potential recruit during your reference process, it’s quite reasonable to keep this information on file for future reference. You can also share information with the CIFAS Staff Fraud Database, a scheme that helps organisations vet employees.

However, you should make sure such lists are not ‘blacklists’ — in other words, lists that discriminate against groups of people based on certain characteristics such as trade union membership. Blacklisting is unlawful under the Employment Relations Act.

DO: Vet potential hires on social media


Social media has become a valuable tool for making pre-employment checks. Public posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on can reveal a great deal about the personality and activities of prospective employees. In many cases, candidates will include links to social media profiles on their CV. So with just a little research, you can gain a valuable insight into potential recruits.

DON’T: Believe everything you read


While references and social media are useful, they can also be an unreliable sources. While references are indispensable, today many employers choose not to make negative comments about departing employees, for fear of legal conflicts. CVs can also be problematic — many people admit to lying or exaggerating their achievements on their CV.

You should always check candidate information as thoroughly as possible, and make decisions based on evidence rather than hearsay.

DO: Share rejection reasons with the applicant


If you decide to reject a candidate based on evidence from a reference, tell them the reasons why. Include the relevant phrases from the reference, social media page or other source.

DON’T: Be too trusting with partner agencies


Recent research shows around half of organisations now think of agencies as useful recruitment partners.

While agencies can lighten the load during recruitment, the responsibility for handling references ethically and legally may still be yours. Make sure you partner with reputable companies and don’t be afraid to ask for details of their methods, including evidence, if necessary.

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