Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire
How to Get the Most Out of Reference Checks

How to Get the Most Out of Reference Checks

For many hiring pros, a reference check is the final stamp of approval required for a hiring decision. If this process is done correctly, there’s an opportunity to get a completely new understanding of a candidate. And sometimes, it’s not the rave review you expected. 

According to our research, more than half of hiring pros (52.4%) use references to assess whether a candidate has the right skills and experience level. Yet the majority of respondents also said references were the least effective way of determining skill and experience level. This could be because many hiring pros haven’t established an effective reference check regimen. 

Reference checks are a chance to connect the dots of the hiring process and thread together your full understanding of a candidate. However, since reference checks/this step typically come(s) at the end of the process, they might not receive your undivided attention.

Here’s how to streamline your hiring process and get the most out of your reference checks: 

Save them for your final decision

All too often, hiring pros begin reference checks before they’ve really narrowed down their candidate pool. This is problematic in many ways. While you may think a candidate will receive a glowing report from a listed reference, you could gain the opposite insight. In my experience, a reference once provided a great initial response — but when I dug deeper, they admitted the candidate I had in mind wouldn’t be the right fit for the role. 

If you do your reference checks too early, you may be persuaded to see a candidate in a certain light, leading to a biased evaluation. Also, by doing your own thorough assessment first, you might get the information you need to either cut someone from your top candidates or even make an immediate decision to offer them the job. 

Reserving reference checks for the final round saves you time and, as a result, money. The fewer candidates you have to reference check, the better. It’s true: You should save the best for last to help make your hiring decision.

Standardize the process

Standardization isn’t just a prerequisite for candidate interviews. It’s essential to have a uniform process for your reference checks, too. A robust process ensures there’s no bias or unfair advantage for candidates. 

A reliable reference check process should include evaluation criteria as well as formulated questions fit for the role and team/departmental culture. Also, be sure to connect with each reference via the same medium (i.e., don’t email one reference and then call another). Consider using two-way video interviews — they’re an excellent option for gaining accurate and insightful information during a reference check. Your conversations are also automatically recorded when using a dedicated video interview platform, so your conversations can be reviewed and shared with all decision-makers in the process. 

Ask the right questions at the right time

Questions are the most critical element of reference checks. Asking the right ones provides the insight you need to make a valuable assessment based on your evaluation. The right questions will also help you understand if the candidate really is the perfect fit for the role. The wrong ones, however, could result in an ill-fitting hire. 

When putting together the best questions for your reference checks, focus on three factors: cultural fit, performance fit, and personality fit. 

  1. Example of culture fit question: “What aspects of your culture were a good fit for this person? What aspects were a poor fit?” 
  2. Example of personality fit question: “Can you tell me about a time when this person made an error? How did they resolve the issue? How did they recover from it?”
  3. Example of performance fit question: “What advice would you give on how to best manage this person?”

Gain multiple perspectives

Context matters when it comes to understanding a candidate. A previous manager isn’t going to see a candidate the same way their co-worker did. During the initial application stage, it’s vital to ask for multiple references. Specify each reference should have worked with the applicant in various capacities. For example, one was a manager, another was a coworker, and maybe one was a client/customer. 


Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 5,000+ customers in over 100 countries.