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When a Reference Check Doesn’t Check Out

Some employers view reference checks as a mere formality – a final hurdle to clear before bringing a new hire on board. Others use references to screen applicants – taking advantage of the insights these checks can provide. Either way, when a reference check turns up something unexpected (or worse), it can throw a huge wrench into the onboarding process. But it doesn’t have to automatically disqualify a candidate. Here are some steps to take to ensure you don’t miss out on a great hire because of a not-so-great reference.

Review Reference Rules.

Before you even start checking references, it’s a good idea to review labor guidelines to refamiliarize yourself with what employers can and cannot say about former employees. That way, if you do come across a reference check that seems problematic, you can keep in mind that the reference may be restricted in giving you more details.

Consider the Source.

When a reference has something negative to say about a candidate, it’s worth taking a step back and considering if there are any signs you shouldn’t take the information at face value. What is the reference’s relationship with your recruit? Are there any complicating factors that could have tainted the reference’s assessment?

Talk to the Candidate.

The most direct way to check a reference check is to talk to your candidate about any negative information you’ve heard and ask them to explain their side of things. If you’ve already interviewed the candidate, don’t hesitate to bring them back in to address any problematic issues specifically.

Reference Check Dos and Don’ts


Don’t settle for letters of reference. While some letters of reference provide concrete examples of the traits you’re looking for in a candidate, they’re more often a general endorsement of the candidate as a person. Take the extra step of talking with references directly. That will get you more valuable information.

Do get input from your hiring team. If you’ve involved colleagues to assist you in the interview process (and you should), have them suggest questions for you to ask when checking references. They may want to follow up on something you’ve missed.

Don’t tip your hand. If you’ve formed your own opinions about the candidate already, keep them to yourself. You don’t want your preconceptions to affect the flow of the conversation or influence your information source’s answers to your questions.

Do ask specific questions. “How was Javon to work with?” may sound like a good way to start a conversation, but it doesn’t give you any valuable information. Instead, ask how the prospective employee follows directions or handles safety concerns. Find out if the person you’re talking to has seen the candidate use the skills they listed on their resume. Get specific information that will make your hiring decision clearer.

Do You Need a Hand with Hiring?

Contact Mega Force to help you meet your talent needs. We’re a staffing agency that assists employers in Statesville and throughout North Carolina connect with dependable candidates. Whether you have a specific pressing need or you’re just wanting to give your current recruiting efforts a boost, start here to learn more about what we can do for you.


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