How thoroughly and regularly do you do your background checks on applicants before you hire them? If you are sheepishly admitting to yourself that it’s not as often or as thorough as it should be, or you are proudly admitting that you feel they are a waste of time and energy, here are some reasons why background checking is still as important as ever. Reference Checks are a vital tool in assessing the suitability of your applicants. They provide insight into an individual’s past behaviour in the workplace, and we all know that past behaviours is the best possible predictor of future behaviour. Reference Checks are not a waste of time if they are:
- Completed verbally;
- Done thoroughly;
- Conducted with the right person;
- Specific to the key duties, outcomes and attitudes required in the role.
Here are some easy to implement tips to help you get the most out of your reference checking:
- Make a form / standard list of questions that you wish to ask. That way, you can be sure you are getting consistent information about each applicant and from every reference check
- Ask questions that are important to you; punctuality, reliability, suitability for your role, ability to get along with others, willingness to work back etc
- Don’t just confirm employment ask questions that are relevant to your role. This may include ability to follow instruction, ability to answer customer queries, efficiency, ability to learn new tasks, or their aptitude with numbers.
- Complete at least two reference checks
- Make sure you are speaking to the applicants’ previous manager / supervisor. You can check this by making sure you call a company’s land line and check the managers’ title before they put you through.
- If something from a reference check doesn’t add up, investigate further!
At the beginning of the Reference Check, it is advisable to put in some form of a disclosure statement, advising the referee of the applicants rights under the Privacy Act to access the information. It is because of this that there is a common misconception that reference checking is a waste of time as ‘referee’s only ever say good things’. Those of us who have done enough reference checking know that this is not the case. In most cases, the referee will be honest and give factual, non emotional and specific answers if you frame your questions correctly. Others may simply refuse to do a reference check or to answer specific questions. This is a sure-fire red flag that there are issues. In a few cases, they may offer to provide an ‘off the record’ comment that may be very insightful! So what about written references? To put it simply, in many cases they are not worth the paper they are written on. Whilst most applicants are very genuine, there are those who are not. With the technology available these days, getting hold of a company logo and / or letter head to prepare a reference on is not all that difficult. And what about if you can’t do a verbal reference check? Well, my advice is to be very, very careful before hiring. If you are unable to contact a referee, have a good look at the reasons why. It is very rare in my experience that an applicant cannot track down a previous manager or supervisor somewhere. So, if they are unwilling to hand over the details, there is probably a reason why.