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Conducting a Useful Reference Check

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  • Overview

    Conducting a reference check is a critical part of the recruitment process, and a job offer should never be extended without checking the finalist’s references. Conducting reference checks will help you make better hiring decisions as it give you a general understanding of how the candidate performed in past jobs. Past behavior is the best indicator of future performance. Finally, reference checks can help protect the significant investment a hiring department makes in any new hire by ensuring better job matches.

    General Guidelines

    At the University of Florida, references must be checked for every recruiting effort, regardless of whether the final candidate is an external applicant or internal university employee. According to industry experts, one-third of all resumes and applications contain material falsehoods! With this in mind, reference checking is especially important and necessary to verify that provided information is accurate.

    • For a reference check template, click here.
    • For the experience verification form, click here.

    All reference checks, whether for an external or internal candidate, should be conducted with the following guidelines in mind:

    • References should support information supplied on the application, resume, and as stated during the candidate’s interview.
    • Treat all candidates fairly and consistently.
    • Only request information that is relevant to the candidate’s skills and qualifications in relation to the vacancy.
    • Disregard information about which the provider does not have first-hand knowledge or which is unrelated to the individual’s skills or performance.
    • Protect the confidentiality of the recruiting process and the privacy of your applicants whenever possible. Treat names of individuals involved in the recruitment, salaries, and personal information as confidential.
    • Use caution when evaluating comments that are “off the record”.
    • Keep documentation of your recruitment effort for three years.
    • Documentation includes notes taken during interviews and while checking references.

    How Many Reference Checks Should Be Conducted?

    The recommended amount of references is three for each finalist. The providers should include current, past employers and/or professional references such as professors, teachers, or co-workers. Obtaining information from multiple references will allow you to determine whether the information provided is consistent and positive. Note any emerging patterns in terms of the comments made about the finalist.

    Keep in mind that the hiring department must conduct as many reference checks as necessary to account for the number of years of experience required to qualify the applicant for the position title.

    Consent for Reference Checks

    The application for employment includes a candidate’s written authorization that serves as consent. Additionally, the list of references provided by the candidate is also considered consent. It is recommended to inform the candidate that you will be calling his/her references. This is especially important when contacting the candidate’s current employer and references as it may impact his/her current position.

    Also, review the Employment History section of the application for any special request submitted by the candidate. Often times an applicant wishes that his or her current employer not be contacted until he or she is a finalist for a position.

    Performing Reference Checks and Experience Verification

    Prior to extending a job offer, the hiring department is asked to ensure that the final candidate meets the minimum experience required for the position vacancy. This step can be completed by verifying the finalist’s dates of employment while checking references.

    Experience Verification

    Applicants are considered qualified for a position based on information provided in their resume. The education and experience of most applicants are not verified until they have been identified as finalists for particular vacancies. Talent Acquisition & Onboarding will verify each candidate’s educational credentials and will conduct criminal background checks upon request, but it is the department’s responsibility to verify a candidate’s work experience through reference checking.

    Experience Verification Form and Calculator

    *Use the following worksheet to calculate the amount of work experience.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can’t find the answers you’re looking for? Here are some answers to FAQs.

    Question Response
    Some companies provide only basic information on a former or current employee. Is this information useful? Yes. These reference checks will allow you to confirm things such as dates of employment, job title, pay, and whether the employee is eligible for rehire. They also will allow you to determine the accuracy of the information provided.

    Although a more ideal reference is someone who shares evaluative information, being able to confirm basic information provided on a resume or application is helpful.

    If I know a candidate personally, do I need to check references? Yes. References should be conducted on every person you wish to hire regardless of whether you know him or her on a personal basis, regardless of whether a coworker knows the finalist, and regardless of the level of position.
    If I receive a negative evaluation on a candidate, should I immediately disqualify him or her?


    No. While it is important to consider any negative comments carefully, they should not immediately disqualify the candidate from further consideration. There are two sides to every story. Should this situation arise, the best course of action is to ask for specific examples to support the negative comments and then check additional references.

    Be sure to speak with at least three references and to formulate a specific question that asks about the deficiency. For example, if one employer says that the employee had a problem with tardiness, ask other references if the candidate was prompt, dependable, and able to meet deadlines.

    If my finalist is a current UF employee, may I contact his or her current supervisor?


    Yes. Remember, an applicant’s most recent work experience will provide you with valuable insight into how he or she may perform in the future as well as his or her current skills and job responsibilities.

    As a courtesy, inform the applicant that he or she is a strong candidate for the vacancy and that you plan to contact his or her current UF supervisor to conduct a reference check.

    Simply because an applicant is currently working for the university does not mean that reference checks may be waived, reference checks must still be conducted with prior departments to verify job duties and performance.

    Do I need to verify an applicant’s education level as well as experience?


    No. Talent Acquisition & Onboarding will verify any educational credentials for your finalist. If, however, an applicant provides copies of diplomas or transcripts to you at the time of an interview, please forward this information to the Core HR recruiter. Doing so will help expedite the verification process.
    What questions are illegal?


    Your inquiry should be as objective as possible and relate directly to the finalist’s job performance and job duties and to information provided on the application, resume, or during the interview.

    Forms of discrimination that apply to interviewing and hiring also are applicable to reference checking. Be sure to avoid questions that involve race, age, disabilities, national origin, religion, or marital status.

    With whom should I share reference information? Information obtained through reference checks should be held to the highest level of confidentiality. This information should only be accessible to individuals who are relevant to the recruiting and hiring process for the particular vacancy. These individuals may include the department hiring authority, the respective Dean’s or Vice President’s Office, and your Core HR Recruiter.
    Does the law protect an employer who provides references?


    Yes. Section 768.095, Florida Statutes, now provides that employers who disclose information about former or current employees to a prospective employer at the prospective employer’s request will be immune from civil liability for the disclosure or its consequences. This statute encompasses any information, not just performance-related information, shared by an employer, about a current or former employee.
    What is “defamation of character?”


    Defamation of character is communication of information that is false and injurious to the reputation of an employee or former employee. Employers should provide truthful reference information without fear of liability if the information is factual and without malicious intent or discrimination.
    With concerns over liability, isn’t it almost impossible to get a bad reference these days?


    No. Although it is true that most references don’t generally provide overtly negative comments, it is still possible to obtain information that is not positive. This may require you to evaluate the comments provided and compare them to the qualities, skills, and experience for which you are looking.

    For instance, if a reference states that the employee was a good worker, but not a good manager, he or she might be more appropriate for positions that do not have supervisory responsibilities.

    What is “negligent hiring? Negligent hiring is a failure by a prospective employer to check references adequately or to gather relevant information on a candidate hired.

    Obtaining reference information is vital to ensure that a new employee does not repeat negative, past behavior, and employers may be held liable for not adequately checking reference information.