If you are an employer, hiring manager, or recruiter, making a list of reference check questions should be close to the top of your to-do list. Even though more than fifty percent of large U.S. employers conduct background checks, applicants still lie on applications, resumes, and in interviews. ADP, Automatic Data Processing, a large payroll services, employee benefits administration and human capital management solutions provider, reports that almost fifty percent of reference checks reveal discrepancies in candidate-provided information and reference verified information.

Negligent hiring lawsuits, where employers are held liable for injuries cause by their employees, are time-consuming and expensive, and can damage an employer’s good name and reputation. They can be avoided with good hiring practices that include reference check questions and background checking. Good reference check questions include inquiries into candidates’ characters through things like direct questions about work and work ethic that may reveal the character, work habits, and philosophies of applicants and any red flags to explore further or prompt a no-hire decision.

Why Oh Why Do They Lie?

This is the information age, with the ubiquitous internet, proliferation of cell phone videos and mobile computing, and information-intensive industry. Why would anyone lie instead of upgrading employment skills, going back to school, or finding alternatives to falsifying information that can usually be easily accessed? Why? To get a job, to get more money, to get hired at by particular employer, to hide a criminal record, to hide a poor work record, and any of a multitude of other reasons.

And if you know candidates lie, then you know what you have to do. Check their references! Ask direct reference check questions! Reference check questions are the first line of defense against the lying liars that you don’t want to hire.

Consequences for Employers

If you think that you can just fire the employee that throws a punch in the parking lot and breaks a supervisor’s jaw, you’d better think again. That supervisor, or his or her family, may feel you should have known the employee had a history of violence, or a criminal record, or was mentally unbalanced before you hired him and gave him the opportunity to break their loved one’s jaw.

One example: An Arkansas Federal Court jury awarded $7 million in damages to the family of an Arkansas truck driver killed in 2009 by another truck driver with a history of unsafe driving that would have/could have/should have been revealed in a basic background search. Or possibly with reference check questions such as “Any problems with your driving record we should know about?” and “Have you had any accidents recently?”

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Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to save or avoid paying $7 million by asking a few reference check questions or conducting a $50 background check?

Reference Check Best Practices

Now you see why you should ask reference check questions. But do you know how? What if everyone you call just says “Sorry, we only verify dates of employment and job title of former employees” or won’t even take your calls? It’s time to break out your inner reference checking ninja and put these best practices to work:

  • Make a list of relevant reference check questions to ask on calls so you don’t forget to ask about anything important. Start by asking for verification of dates of employment, job title, salary, and main responsibilities. Document all answers.
  • Move on to more in-depth questions like these:
  • Why did the candidate leave? Would you rehire this candidate?
  • How often did the candidate receive salary increases?
  • Were there any advancements, demotions, or lateral moves or did the candidate stay in the same position the whole time with the company?
  • How was the candidate’s work performance?
  • What were the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What about the candidate’s attendance record? Were there any issues with absenteeism and tardiness?
  • How did the candidate get along with co-workers, superiors, and others?
  • Politely push references that are hesitant or do not want to provide information for your reference check questions. If you sense any negativity, probe by asking things like “It sounds like you weren’t happy with that outcome. Is that right? Could you explain a little further?
  • If you absolutely can’t get any meaningful reference information beyond verification of employment, consider a more thorough background check.

The right reference check questions will save a lot of extra work down the road!


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