How To Guide: Requesting References For A Potential Employee

Requesting references for a potential employee not only ensures that the applicant has given you the correct details about their skills, qualifications and previous employment, they can also provide useful information about the persons character, reliability and punctuality.

A recent survey of SME’s in the UK, found that 36% of companies with less than 35 staff fail to check the employment history of potential employees.

That is despite 75% of respondents claiming to have had problems with employees whose history was not investigated.

Businesses who use pre-employment checks are seeking confirmation of the following aspects:

  • Identity
  • Employment history
  • Qualifications, including driving license
  • Criminal background
  • Credit history

Requesting References for a potential employee is tremendously important

Compliance With General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)

When verifying a candidate’s details you should explain the process to the candidate. If you will need to obtain information or documents from a third party, such as a previous employer or college, you should first obtain the candidates consent.

When Do You Collect The Information?

It’s important to only make further enquiries about a potential employee when it is absolutely necessary, i.e. once they have been offered and have accepted the job. This will involve less administration and will also help to prevent breaches of the Data Protection Act and Human Rights Act.

How Do You Collect The Information?

The following points are important considerations when deciding how to check references about prospective employees:-

Extra detail can be revealed on the telephone through the speaker’s tone and manner. Try and speak with both the company manager and the previous employee’s direct supervisor if possible.

Written Confirmation
This will give you a limited amount of information. However if you send the referee a pre-prepared questionnaire to complete it can work well, see the link below to download my template form. Enclosing a stamped addressed reply envelope will also encourage the provider to respond.

What Information Do You Collect?

The enquiries should seek to only obtain information that is absolutely necessary. The level of responsibility associated with the position will determine what information is important to you: for example, if the job involves extensive interaction with customers and clients you’d probably want to ensure that the individual has good communication skills and a pleasant personality.

Whichever method you decide to adopt to source the information it is advisable to prepare a list of questions before you make contact with the previous employer so that you gain all the necessary information concerning the applicant.

So what information can you hope to receive from the previous employer?

  • Confirmation of Details: it is useful to verify the basic details of the potential employee’s employment history, such as: the period of employment, their position within the company, their salary on leaving etc.
  • Reliability and Punctuality: it is important to determine whether the potential employee is hard working, reliable and timely.
  • Reason for Leaving: did the employee leave of their own accord? Does their version of the reason for leaving correspond with that given by the potential employee?
  • Relations with Clients, Customers and Colleagues: you will need to find out whether the applicant works well with their associates, this is especially important if they will be working within a team.

Read my article The Three Most Common Lies Told By Candidates and download my Template Reference Request Form.

Top Tip
Before sending out a request for a reference you should think carefully about whether the information that you are providing is sufficient for the employer to identify the individual. You don’t want to receive details about the Alison Smith who was dismissed for Gross Misconduct when the Alison Smith that you have made an offer of employment to demonstrated excellent qualities and the company were sorry to lose her!

Relevant Tribunal Decisions

The case of McGann v West Atlantic UK Limited demonstrates how important it is for an employer to check that the information provided during the recruitment process is factually correct. Mr McGann successfully gained employment with West Atlantic UK Limited as a Captain flying commercial airliners. During the recruitment process McGann provided a false reference from a false email address. After McGann had started in his new position West Atlantic realised the referee was fake and McGann eventually admitted to his wrong doing. In the circumstances West Atlantic offered McGann the chance to resign his position, which he chose to accept. McGann then decided to pursue a claim against West Atlantic for his contractual entitlement to 3 months’ notice pay.

Key Points To Consider When Requesting References For A Potential Employee

  • The failure of an employer to provide a reference covering anything other than very basic information should not be seen as an indication of a problem with the prospective employee.
  • Any reluctance regarding the provision of a reference or any aspect of one should be followed up by telephone and treated with caution.
  • Any relevant information regarding the post should be sent with the reference request to ensure that comments are as relevant to the new role as possible.
  • The reference should ask for specific information, focusing on key areas necessary for the satisfactory performance of the role rather than the content being left to the discretion of the referees. It’s focus should be fact rather than opinion.
  • Given the difference between individual’s expectations and standards the validity and reliability of anything other than objective information should be carefully considered.

Top Tips
After spending so much time and money in attracting candidates don’t neglect to carry out the final checks

If any discrepancies in information arise during the reference checking process the applicant must be given the opportunity to explain.

Download the Template Reference Request Form Now!

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Requesting References For A Potential Employee