Why Don’t You Check References?

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Why Don’t You Check References?

We’re not trying to dismiss the fact that most companies do, in fact, conduct some kind of reference checking. We are saying that this process should be systematic and deliberate every single time. Instead of verifying dates of employment and eligibility for rehire, we really want to know more information about the candidate that will help us understand if they are a good fit for our job.

According to the EEOC, employment law states that, “it is illegal for an employer to give a negative or false employment reference (or refuse to give a reference) because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” This doesn’t even say that we’re not allowed to give a more in-depth reference, beyond dates of employment and rehire status.

Why then are we so afraid to do so, especially in a world of reviews, referrals, and opinions? According to an article regarding privileges for job references, Judge Trial Referee Justice David Borden,

“We believe that the integrity of employment references not only is essential to prospective employers, but also to prospective employees, who stand to benefit from the credibility of positive recommendations…It also would encourage a “culture of silence” not to afford a qualified privilege to employment references that are made in good faith and without improper motive.”

Despite the practicality and helpfulness of a positive reference, we understand that there are valid reasons why a thorough and more in-depth reference-checking process doesn’t occur very often. That’s what we’re going to explore here further.


You know how when you’re going to hire someone and you ask them to provide 3 references that can speak to their competency and work ethics, and indicate that direct supervisors are preferred? And then how when someone calls you asking about a former employee, and they keep prying to find out more information? You feel stuck. You’re torn. You fired that last gal because she was an HR nightmare, causing drama and harassing every other worker in site, and now you are faced with providing a reference to someone for her. You don’t want to get sued or in any type of legal confrontation, so you’re strict with providing only the bare minimum, but this guy won’t stop pressing you for details on your personal recommendation. What do you do?

Even though you require references from your own candidates, doesn’t this feel a bit hypocritical? It should. Because it is! We get it.


Fear plays a part as well. We might not want to find out if our so-far perfect candidate is really a serial killer, or was in their last position anyway. When you really click with a candidate and everything seems to be falling into place, it’s difficult to accept any news to the contrary. What if the reference is a poor one? How will you incorporate this feedback into your already rosy perception of this person? Even more difficult is when you’ve been working a job for months with little activity and finally find THE PERFECT CANDIDATE! Yea, we know. Been there!


It kind of sucks calling someone cold and asking them about someone else. You don’t want to impose or bother the person, and you’re like, asking them all these questions like you deserve to know the answers…so awkward, right?!

This is why it’s the most genius idea ever to have your candidates set up the actual reference check with their former supervisor. THIS WAY, it’s not as awkward for you. It’s more like, hey you, we have a mutual connection in common and he said to call you and they’re like, oh yea, hey what’s up, nice to hear from you and then it’s all good. You can easily and casually move into conducting the reference check at that point.

If your candidate doesn’t set it up on their own, that’s okay too, you’ll just have to do a little more relationship building in the beginning of the call. Building rapport is a huge component to a quality reference check. When you can shoot the sh*t with your reference for a bit before diving right into what they can do for you, you bring down the barriers of awkwardness and unfamiliarity, hopefully connecting over shared interests or some other item of small talk. Building this relationship will allow you to ask those tough questions of the reference, point blank. It’s much easier to say, “was Jim really an asset with creative ideas or not?” when you’ve established some kind of relationship with the reference.

Do you check candidate references regularly? Whether yes or no, we want to hear from you!

To take our brief survey and get your voice heard, click here!

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