The Importance of Being Diligent: Why Checking References Isn't Enough

Hiring   |   

This is a guest post by our partner in applicant tracking systems, The Resumator.

As you make your way through the screening process, you may be tempted to make an offer after speaking to a stellar candidate's references, which have, to no one's surprise, come back glowing. But are you safe to stop there?

If your hiring process is exhaustive enough to yield a short list of expected performers, you may think you're good to go. After all, you've thoroughly screened each job candidate for:

  1. Competency"”do they have the skills to outperform in the role?
  2. Culture"”will they fit in and add value above and beyond their job-related tasks?
  3. Past behaviors"”what have they accomplished in previous roles?
  4. Future situations"”how will they handle the specifics of your company and this role?
  5. Negotiables"”are their expectations (like salary) aligned with yours, and vice versa?

On top of that, you've checked off the following must-do assessments along the way:

  1. Phone screens"”you've had them speak with both a recruiter and a hiring manager
  2. In-person interviews"”they've spent multiple hours getting grilled by all invested parties, including assessors of culture
  3. Skills check"”you've given job-relevant homework to ensure expertise
  4. Reference checks"”you've engaged personal and professional contacts to be sure about everything from experience to accomplishments to communication skills

Good news: you are on the right track, but the road doesn't end there. There's one more integral step beyond the reference check that will ensure your future hire is red-flag free.

The Risk of Stopping after the Reference Check

Ask yourself: What are you really gaining from checking references? While your main goal may be to uncover any risks that lie under the surface, realistically, you may be more focused on reinforcing your affinity for the person, whether you realize it or not.

In addition, you have the reality of the reference check, which is that often they don't reveal much that you didn't already know or expect. Here's why: candidates are more likely to provide references who will sing their praises than they are to name individuals who might reveal something unsavory.

This is why reference checks often yield exactly what we want to hear, not what we need to see. The beauty of the background check is it brings to the surface those hidden, high-risk hires that pose a threat to your company's safety, security, or reputation.

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to spot these candidates when you end the screening process after simply checking references.

What's at Stake without a Background Check?

First of all, if you're a small business, the impact of even one bad employee will be felt across the entire company. Think in terms of proportion: one out of 75 employees is significantly more noticeable than one out of 10,000. Now imagine one out of 26 employees"”or fewer. That bad hire could stop a company's progress in its tracks. Even if you're not a small company, the benefits of running a proper pre-employment background check are many. Background checks:

  1. Expose fibs on resumes and applications"”did they really work at and graduate from the places they're claiming?
  2. Ensure regulatory compliance"”cover your bases to protect your company from class action lawsuits, ban-the-box legislation, and more, which are expected to continue.
  3. Improve quality of hires"”better transparency into candidates means better insights to help you hire.

But don't take our word for it, get more background checking resources from our partner GoodHire.

Hiba Haider

Hiba Haider


Hiba is an expert product marketer with a background in inbound and digital marketing. She writes about recruiting, HR laws, and how to build a great culture and is a proud Babson alumna.

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