Checking a candidate’s references: a checklist

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In their applications, candidates often list references. These references can be useful for you as their potential new employer, but you should be careful with them. Handling an applicant’s references in the wrong way can give an untrustful and a negative image of yourself. So, how should you go through references? For this, we made a short list of things to keep in mind while checking a candidate’s references.

Before checking

Before we get to the checklist itself, we need to talk about the checking process. Even though candidates usually acknowledge that their references are checked, it does not hurt you to say it out loud. State honestly what you are going to do with the possible references and ask your candidate’s permission to be sure. In fact, this might even foster trust and openness between your candidate and you as well as improve the overall candidate experience.

In short: be open about the process, and don’t forget to get your candidate’s consent!

The checklist

Let’s go through the items on the checklist one by one, starting with…

1. Check the reference’s authenticity

Some applicants might give a fake reference in their application. Before wasting any time with a fake reference, head over to LinkedIn and see if the reference person actually is what the applicant claims. If yes, you can continue the process. If not, you should seriously consider if you want to hire the applicant.

2. Get input from others

This is all about preparation. Harvard Business Review suggests asking feedback from the people who interviewed the candidate. By doing this, you get an overview of other people’s concerns and know better what to keep in mind while checking the reference.

3. Ask the right questions

RecruitLoop advises planning your questions carefully. Avoid broad questions and focus on specific inquiries that are relevant to the job your applicant is applying to. Think about what you want to know about the candidate and formulate your questions correctly as open-ended questions. Take the job description, key competencies, and other relevant aspects into account. By being specific, you learn more about the candidate’s distinct qualities and work style.

Possible questions might be:

  • “What were their role and responsibilities?”
  • “How did they get along with co-workers?”
  • “Can you tell me more about the projects [the candidate] worked on? How did they succeed in them?”
4. Listen and take notes

After asking a question, sit back and listen carefully. Let the reference speak without interrupting them (or worse, putting words into their mouths) and take notes. If the reference call takes long, you probably won’t remember much about it. Have your notebook ready, because you’ll be thanking your notes when doing the final decision.

With this checklist, you are able to get more out of checking your candidates’ references. Checking the references is critical, especially if you have difficulties deciding between multiple candidates. By checking the references correctly, you do your company a service in the long run: a good recruitment yields good people. And we all know what good people do to your company’s success. If you are looking for said good people, head over to our partnership portal for more information on how AIESEC can help you in your recruitment!


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