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Reference Checks Vs. Employment Verifications: Weighing Your Options

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

- Milton Berle, American comedian

If you have ever been involved in the recruitment process, you might have heard the terms reference checking and employment verification being used interchangeably. However, this is a common misconception. While both can be used to verify an employee or candidate’s employment history, they are vastly different in how they are carried out. Quite simply, reference checks have more versatility to them. In this blog, we will explore what these two modes of verification are, how they function and how you as an employer can use them to leverage the best results.

A reference check comes as part of a standard hiring process. This is when the candidate in question provides the hiring manager with contacts that can attest to his or her abilities. These can be personal or professional, though it is often the latter. Reference checks give hiring managers an idea about the candidate’s work history, responsibilities, performance and even workplace behaviour.

Essentially, you can attain a wide range of information about the candidate that ties into their physical performance and work history as well as abstract metrics such as behaviour, workplace etiquette, work standards and so on.

What is Employment Verification?

Now, where the reference check allows for a wide range of data collection points, the employment verification is a little more boxed in. This is where a prospective employer or future employer gets in touch with the previous employer. They will then confirm job-specific facts like the job title, start and end dates, the reason for leaving or why they were terminated (if that is the case).

Reference checks give you more room to explore the candidate's skills

Reference checks offer more variety and help you assess the candidate's different facets. This better suits the needs of the modern workplace.

Reference Checks Vs. Employment Verification

Before we get into how you can leverage reference checking; we need to understand the key similarities and differences between a reference check and employment verification. When it comes to a reference check or employment verification, it generally happens over a call, sometimes an email. The recruiter or hiring manager asks questions relating to the candidate’s productivity, communication skills, success points, attendance, cultural fit, and other metrics that point to their strengths and weaknesses.

As we mentioned before, employment verification is a little more straightforward. The line of questioning is a little more limited to the job roles and such. Don’t get the wrong idea though, this is a tried-and-true method that will give you the answers you want, but only for validating that the candidate worked at the company, for how long and at what capacity.

If you’re looking for more of a feedback or review based answer on how they performed and what they are like to have as an employee, then a reference check is your best bet. Having said that, both methods are common to a head with a common obstacle, which is the struggle to get unbiased or full information from the phone calls.

"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to have changed often."

- Winston Churchill, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Why Is It So Hard to Get Information via Phone Calls?

Regardless of the path you take, as the hiring manager, you will often run into one of two problems. One, you might face time constraints and two, referees may be unwilling to answer. Let’s be honest, calling around about a single employee to multiple sources is a time-consuming affair. Half of the time, most of the referees won’t be willing to speak to you either. This will severely limit the amount and quality of information that you get from these calls.

Another common issue with either process is that traditional reference checks happen so late in the game. Usually, they take place towards the end of the hiring process. By that time, it becomes more of an exercise in futility- a formality. The information you get at that stage won’t make much of a difference unless it is something significant, given that the company has already invested so much time and effort into recruiting said candidate.

Methods for Leveraging Reference Checks

Now that we have a basic understanding of how the two methods function, it’s time to turn our attention to the reference checks. This is the more versatile of the two and can potentially give you a candidate’s full professional history if done right. So, let’s get into it!

Tip #1 Ask the Right Questions

When you’re conducting the reference check, make sure to line up the questions in such a way that it correlates with key hiring decisions. Some of the best questions will challenge what you initially assumed about the candidate’s characteristics during the initial rounds of the interview. You could set them to target specific things such as communication skills, critical thinking and so on.

Use a simple question such as: How well did he or she communicate in high-stress collaborative situations? This will reveal volumes about a person and give you valuable feedback on how they worked in a team, independently and under pressure. If these factors coincide with your hiring values, then it will help you make an informed decision about the actual hire.

Keeping a uniform baseline is one of the best things you can do when comparing reference check data of candidates.

Having a common baseline will help you when comparing data from reference checks

Tip #2 Break It up into Stages

You will want to structure the recruitment and reference check process into several stages. This will help you set a standardized baseline that avoids unwanted bias. It is especially helpful when you have a large volume of candidates to check. There are a few things that we recommend you focus on when standardizing. First of all, the questions have to be standardized. Have a common set of questions on hand that can be asked for all candidates’ referees. This will give you a healthy measure to make a comparison with later.

The next thing you want to standardize is the criteria for acceptable references. At what level or rank should the referee be in the previous company? Are referees outside of the workplace acceptable referees? This will help you cut down on the sheer number of references and focus on the ones you need. It will also set the stage for the next issue, which is identifying the credibility of the referee. Make sure that the information you get is from a proper source.  Lastly, we recommend that you have a fixed time limit for the amount of time you dedicate for each reference check. As we mentioned before, it can be a time-consuming process. So, make it count!

Tip #3 Do It Early in the Process

It may be an outdated practice to have reference checks done towards the end of the recruitment process, yet it is still common. It is a common misconception that this is just for verification purposes, therefore it can be done at the end as it doesn’t yield much information. However, a reference check can raise major red flags when done right and does factor into the final hiring decision.

The best time to do it is immediately after the first few rounds of the interview. Do it before you invest too much time and effort into any one candidate. It will tell you if it is worth pursuing. You can also do it intermittently throughout the process to verify and investigate the candidate’s claims as the recruitment process goes on. The point is to catch any red flags early on, or as soon as possible.

Tip #4 Automation is Your Best Friend

Phone calls are the traditional method of doing these reference checks, however, automated reference checking is far better. Given the nature of automated reference checks, referees are more likely to answer honestly and fully. Since everything is online, there is not much room for human bias and it’s a massive time-saver for everyone involved. This eliminates the need for the hiring manager to play phone tag with candidate referees and gives you more time to focus on the rest of the recruitment process. This is why we here at Credibled offer you such an extensive, automated reference check!