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What Makes A Bad Reference Check vs Good Reference Check?

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You know reference checks are important to the hiring process, but what differentiates a bad reference check from a good one? Watching for red flags can help. This article explains the warning signs of a bad reference check, like fake references or education and employment discrepancies; what makes a good reference check; and how to get good reference checks every time.

Performing reference checks is a crucial part of any company’s screening and hiring process. Reference checks can reveal good insight and details about a candidate that other background checks don’t provide—details like how they work and communicate with others, professional relationships, job-related skills, and more. 

Currently, an estimated 87% of employers perform reference checks during the screening and hiring process. Another survey found that 34% of senior managers decided not to hire a job candidate based on a reference check. 

While it’s easy to understand that conducting reference checks and having a go-to reference check form is important, it can be more challenging to determine what makes a bad reference check vs a good one. The key is in the references themselves—and the reference check answers. 

That’s why GoodHire is sharing examples of bad reference checks and good reference checks, so you have the answers you need to make the best, most informed hiring decisions.

Bad Reference Checks

In most cases, it’s easy to decipher a bad reference check from a good one. Regardless, employers and hiring managers should be on the lookout for other red flags that can contribute to a bad reference check. Red flags like reference check answers, the references themselves, or a misstep on the candidate’s part. 

Examples of bad reference checks may include:

Candidates Who Refuse To Provide References

One of the most apparent signs of a bad reference check? You can’t even conduct one because a candidate refuses to provide them. While there may be personal details at-play (like the candidate not wanting to tip off their employer), this should still be an example of a red flag. If you suspect that’s the case, ask the candidate if they can provide personal references. If they’re still unable to, that could be reason enough to disqualify them from the running.

References You Can’t Get Ahold Of

Another sign of a bad reference check is the inability to get in contact with them. Candidates should make their references aware of a potential phone call or email from a hiring manager or screening service like GoodHire. 

If references are unaware they were listed, that might be a sign that the candidate doesn’t have a strong relationship with them or failed to communicate with them about it. It may also be a sign that the candidate listed fake references.

References Who Are Fake

Speaking of fake references, candidates are known to list them. This may be in the form of a close friend or family member posing as a professional reference or making someone up entirely. To spot signs of a fake reference, look for reference check answers that are incredibly vague or sound scripted to your reference check questions.

Another sign of a fake reference is someone who can’t provide details of a candidate’s day-to-day responsibilities and tasks, relationships with co-workers, and anything else a close colleague would otherwise know. That’s why it’s crucial to ask specific-opened ended questions to give references the chance to provide answers that are in-depth and detailed.

Discrepancies In Job History & Experience

Many hiring managers use tools like Employment Verifications to determine whether a candidate is truthful about their work history on an application or resume. But that can only reveal so much about a candidate’s previous employment and may not provide enough details about them as an employee.

References, however, can potentially reveal discrepancies or red flags about a candidate’s previous work history and experience. Suppose a reference worked directly with a candidate. In that case, they’ll likely be able to reveal more details about their daily tasks, responsibilities, attitude, dependability, and more—details that can easily be misrepresented on a resume or job application. If reference check answers reveal several inconsistencies, it should be considered a red flag.

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Good Reference Checks

Determining a good reference check may also be fairly easy. But similar to bad reference checks, there are certain details to be cognizant of. Examples of good reference checks may include:

Listing Professional vs Personal References

While it’s not necessarily bad for a candidate to list personal vs professional references, it’s an even better sign if all their references are professional ones. That’s because they can provide details directly related to their work ethic, whereas personal references may speak more to a candidate’s general character. Personal references may also be a bit more biased in their answers and only provide glowing reviews, which doesn’t help hiring managers create a complete and accurate picture of candidates.

References Who Worked With The Candidate Closely

Hiring managers shouldn’t assume that all professional references have (or had) a close working relationship with the candidate. Based on the reference check answers, you should be able to get a good idea of how closely a reference worked with the candidate. If they can provide detailed answers and feedback about the candidate’s day-to-day responsibilities, skills, strengths, weaknesses, etc., that’s a good sign you’re getting accurate information.

References Who Are Willing To Discuss Flaws Or Drawbacks 

Not all ‘good’ reference checks will come back with ‘good’ information or glowing reviews. What’s important in this instance, though, is that a candidate’s references are willing to talk about more unflattering characteristics, like flaws or challenges they experienced in the workplace. This paints a more realistic vision of candidates that you can use in your hiring decisions.

References Who Provide Consistent Answers

For hiring managers, it’s important to understand the difference between good and consistent, as consistent feedback does not always equal good feedback. If the answers you receive from references are consistent—whether good or bad—that should be another sign that you’re receiving a candid assessment of the candidate.

If there’s one bad reference amongst a sea of positive feedback (or vice-versa), it may be an outlier. In these instances, it may be worth getting a candidate’s feedback about the bad reference check to get their side of the story.

Get High-Quality Reference Checks Every Time With GoodHire

Deciding what makes a bad reference check vs a good one can be challenging. One way to know for sure? Conducting quality reference checks through a third-party reference check service to arm yourself with the information you need. That means performing reference checks that:

  • Consist of person-to-person phone interviews
  • Ask detailed, open-ended questions
  • Are unbiased
  • Are in-depth
  • Take time
  • Comply with hiring laws  

GoodHire does all of that for you, enabling you to focus on spotting the good reference checks from the bad ones right away. With reference check transcripts uploaded to your easy-to-read dashboard, you can easily see and manage all of your candidate’s reference checks and use them to make the right hiring decisions for your company. 

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

Ashley Blonquist is a former news journalist. She writes about GoodHire’s employment screening services and how employers use them to make informed hiring decisions.