A Guide to Undertaking Reference Checks

RobLawMax Posted by RobLawMax on 8 March 2019 Comments

Reference Checks

Checking a candidate’s references is all too often treated as a box-ticking exercise, viewed as an unwanted task that is rushed or palmed off to someone else to secure an employee faster. Whilst reference checks can seem like an onerous task, evaluating a candidate before offering them a role could potentially save you time and money in the long run. As a key component of the recruitment process, checking references – when done properly – can provide a depth of insight into an applicant’s past work performance as well as cultural fit.

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about best practice reference checking, and how to make the most of this key step through your Construction & Engineering recruitment.

Speak to the Right People

In an ideal world, you’d like to speak to the candidate’s current manager, but this isn’t always possible. After all, many people won’t want their employer to know of their desire to go elsewhere. If this is the case, consider asking the candidate if there is a manager that has recently left the business. This can sometimes be a great alternative, although be sure to verify their authenticity (more on that soon!). If you would prefer to hear only from a current manager, an alternative is to consider offering the role on the condition of a satisfactory reference from this person.

Do Your Own Research

When a candidate provides a referee’s details, do your research on them first. Cross-check the details of the referees to make sure they are who the candidate says they are. All too often we hear about employers being caught out by untruthful applicants, so save yourself the trouble by taking just five minutes out of the process to look into them. This might be checking the referee’s phone number, or taking advantage of social media and looking the referee up on LinkedIn to confirm employment details.

At the end of the background check, if alarm bells are going off in your head, the chances are it is for a good reason.

Seek Internal Input

The goal when conducting reference checks is to do more than just scratch the surface of a candidate’s resume. Of course, you’ll want to verify any claims of achievement or skill, but don’t be tempted to ask the exact same set of questions to every reference for every applicant who comes through your door. Instead, aim to dig beneath the surface of the candidate’s character. Start by gathering extra feedback from the people who were involved in the hiring process. Were there any concerns about hiring this person? Anything that they’d like to follow up on? Is there anything that they might want to know more about?

What you learn from these conversations should form the basis of your final reference check questions, helping you to customise and narrow your questions, pick out referee bias and avoid being blindsided.

Be Specific

Now that you’ve got an idea of the kinds of questions you need to ask, it’s time to settle on how you are going to ask them. Think back to the core skills and competencies needed for the position and be specific with your questioning. Broad questions tend to elicit vague answers. For example, something along the lines of, ‘What is the candidate like?’ could be interpreted several ways, whereas a more targeted question such as ‘How do you feel the candidate fits into the team environment?’ will likely give you a more complete picture.

At the same time, be careful not to discourage good answers before you get them by being too narrow with your questioning. Avoid yes or no questions wherever possible, and instead ask a series of open-ended questions that prompt the referee to talk about the candidate’s actual experiences and behaviour. Examples of good questions could be around any areas of development the candidate has, skills they think the candidate should improve on, or projects they would like to see them working on in the future.

Finally, listen closely for signs that the referee could be holding something back. It might be subtle – a hesitation in a response, or their tone might not be in line with what they are saying. Take what they say with a grain of salt and use it to inform the broader picture of the candidate.


The benefits of reference checking cannot be understated, and it is something every employer should strive to complete as thoroughly as possible. If your organisation is guilty of treating references as an admin burden or a box-ticking exercise, then it might be time to invest something more in this part of the hiring process.

If you’re looking for more reference checking advice or for support in your Construction & Engineering recruitment, speak to the RobLawMax team

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