3 Reasons Why Recruiters Should Check References

Regardless of how time consuming and frustrating checking references can be, they are an important part of the hiring process. In today’s post, we will look at why taking the time to call and email a candidate’s references and past employers is a good practice.

3 Reasons Recruiters Should Check References

Confirm the Veracity of Letters of Recommendations

If you have read my posts before, you know I am a big Downton Abbey fan, so I was thrilled to see an HR lesson play out in the first couple episodes of the current season. Lady Grantham hires a new lady’s maid based solely on an interview where the candidate stated she had worked at Downton before and a letter of recommendation. Downton’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, had written the letter. Lady Grantham took it at face value without talking to Mrs. Hughes about the candidate and the letter. If she had talked to Mrs. Hughes, she would have found out that Mrs. Hughes had only written the letter to send the maid away quietly after a previous scandal that resulted in her being dismissed from her job at Downton.

Needless to say, Lady Grantham ends up regretting her hiring decision when the new maid turns out to be devious and underhanded. So, how do you avoid the same fate? Even if a candidate gives you a letter of recommendation, always call the letter writer. While many letters are authentic and truthful, there are situations like the one described above, and there are also candidates who have fake letters.

Make Sure the Resume is not a Work of Fiction

I love reading fiction but not in resumes and applications. I have called some previous employers only to find out they have no record of the candidate ever having worked there. Due to turnover in management and spotty recordkeeping, I have seen this happen in the retail sector with jobs that are more than about five years in the past. But what about the most recent job or a job within the last couple years?

It is a bad sign when you call a job a candidate left within the last few months only to find out they have never heard of the person. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so sometimes I call the candidate to find out if they worked under a different last name or went by a nickname. If this is not the case, then it is probably time to move on to another candidate. If a candidate is making up work history, do you really want them working for your company?

Do not limit yourself to people listed in the reference section of an application. Generally applicants list people they know will give a good reference. Branch out and call their previous employers.

Help Avoid Negligent Hiring Lawsuits

Checking references can help weed out candidates that may have been problem employees in the past. For example, suppose a quick call to a candidate’s previous employer uncovers they were fired for assaulting a coworker. By making the call, you have enough information to know that it is not a good idea to hire this person, thus avoiding a bad hire that could have caused the same type of trouble in your workplace. If you hired this person without checking references, and they go on to assault someone in your workplace, you open yourself up for a potential negligent hiring lawsuit.

It is important to note that checking references is not a guaranteed protection against negligent hiring claims, but it is a good practice in reducing a company’s risk. Depending on your type of business, you may want to do more thorough background checks, so consult an attorney if you are unsure what type of checks are right for your business.

Bonus Tip

Do you ever call a company only to hear that they have a policy against providing references and that they only verify if someone worked there? This can be frustrating, but there are a couple ways to get some information. Once the person provides you with the information they are able to give, ask if the candidate is eligible for rehire. Even at company’s with strict reference policies, I have been able to get quite a few people to give a simple yes or no reply. Sometimes a no answer can be enough to alert you to a possible bad hire.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.

Reader Interactions


  1. Nambejja Susan says

    This is a good reflect on learning,some times what you may consider to be obvious is not obvious.Very educative article for recruitors and non recruitors.
    Much appreciation to the writer.


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