Are You Checking References Ethically?

Most hiring managers use reference checks as a part of the recruitment process. I’m not so sure that all of them have heard of, or thought about the term ’good recruitment practice’ (god rekryteringssed in Swedish). In short, it’s a standard that ensures good ethics and methods when recruiting.

I’ve found that it’s often common practice to check references that the candidate has not provided, just because many believe that the references they provided are most likely going to give only positive feedback about them, so they aren’t 100% valid, and thus not very useful.

I think most agree with this. It’s no secret that people provide references they know will talk well about them. But let’s think about it. Is it really ethically correct to go and ask former (or worse: present) co-workers and managers of the candidate, without asking them beforehand? Maybe they are not officially looking for a new job. Maybe by doing this, the word will get out that they applied for a job at your company, which might jeopardize their current position at worst. You also have to take into account that the reference given always depends on who is giving it. A former manager might not have liked them, but does that automatically mean that you wont?

So what to do? First of all, the reference check should only be one part of the entire recruitment process, and not weigh more than the other parts. You need to look at the CV, the skills, the social media activity, the results of at least two interviews with various relevant people at your company, and maybe also include a personality test, especially for more senior roles. Before checking references you should have a good idea about the person, and the references should then be used to verify that idea. And if they don’t – if you gain some unexpected knowledge about the candidate – well then that’s good, this means you need to step back and think again.

I also suggest that if you happen to know former colleagues of a candidate that you would like to consult regarding them – just ask. ’I know Peter who you used to work with, is it alright if I ask him about you?’.

As an employer you are most of the times in a power position during the recruitment process, so don’t forget to mind the candidates’ integrity. In the end by doing this, it will be a win-win situation.

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