This is an extract from our full guide ‘Effective Reference Checking for Prospective Employees’.

Research has found that over 33% of candidates lie on their CV and over 25% lie during an interview. Therefore it is vital to undergo effective reference checking.

Why check references?

Though seemingly a time-consuming and ineffective task, reference checking is beneficial in avoiding costly recruitment blunders. It will also support your selection process with accurate, unbiased information.

Talk about references in interviews

At the start of the recruitment process, ensure you inform all candidates that their references will be checked. You could talk about reference checking at the interview stage and incorporate a question such as: “Everyone naturally has had problems with past employers. Whilst I don’t mind the truth, I hate surprises. So is there anything you would like to tell me now that I will inevitably find out later?”

Obtain consent

You must ensure that you have an applicant’s permission to check references as this may jeopardise their current employment. Therefore ask the candidate to sign a release form to allow you to contact their referees. Note that some referees may wish to obtain a copy of the release form before they provide any details.

When to offer the job

You should preferably make your job offer on receiving satisfactory references and ensure the candidate is aware of this. However, if you receive poor references you will be able to withdraw your conditional offer on the basis that the candidate did not meet the required conditions. The candidate will not be able to claim breach of contract. Note, this only applies if the employee has not already commenced work.

Advantages of checking references

References can be obtained either in writing or by telephone; however Recruitment Genius strongly advises collecting verbal references. By using the telephone, you are able to dig a bit deeper into the applicant’s history. You will be able to sense the referee’s tone of voice, which could give you a better indication on what they really think of the candidate. Listen out for any vague comments an employer may use instead of making outright negative comments too.

How to collect telephone references

1. Prepare a list of questions you want to ask the referee. Consider questions that will delve as much as possible into the candidate’s experience and character
2. Avoid using the word ‘reference’ when you call and replace it with phrases such as “I am calling to ask for you assistance with John Smith. He told me that he worked for you between X and Y, is this correct?”
3. Use your prepared list of questions to ensure the conversation remains structured and focused
4. Don’t be afraid to question the referee’s answers. If the referee describes the candidate as ‘satisfactory’, ask them why they used that particular word instead of ‘excellent’

Beware that not all employers are obliged to give references, so you are not guaranteed to obtain a response.

Written References

If you wish to obtain written references then we recommend you provide a form for the referee to complete. Before doing so you should fax a copy of the forms with your company’s information to confirm you are who you say you are. Information the form should ask for include:

  • Their employment dates at the organisation
  • Their job title
  • Their main duties
  • How many sick days they took
  • Whether they were subject to any disciplinary action

Less standard questions could include:

  • “What did the candidate learn whilst they were at your company?”
  • “Would you rehire them?”
  • “If you could give the candidate a career suggestion, what would it be?”

Can candidates request to see their references?

Generally, employees do not have the right to see their references unless they are taking legal action or working for a new employer. Therefore, you should bear in mind that a reference will not necessarily remain confidential.


Though obtaining references can be time-consuming they are vital. If you are unsure of their accuracy, then it may be beneficial to double-check the references.

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