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1st Nov, 2023

Keith Rosser
Keith Rosser
Job Title
Reed Screening

In today's competitive job market, making informed hiring decisions is paramount for employers looking to bolster their workforce.

Employment referencing is an essential part of recruitment; it gives employers a quick and easy way to verify a candidate’s suitability and experience. By contacting recent employers, hiring managers can validate the accuracy of a CV, assessing the credibility of a potential new starter and also making sure the hiring process is doing its job.

While it may seem routine, referencing is a valuable tool that can provide deeper insights into a candidate's history, work ethic, and suitability for a role. However, there are important considerations to make in terms of legal and ethical considerations.

Understand referencing

There are two core elements to what most organisations refer to as an employment reference check: employment verification or a basic check (date and role confirmation from previous employer) and substantive referencing or an enhanced check (meaningful commentary on conduct and competence of an individual). Many organisations, although not required to by statutory or regulatory obligation, will opt to conduct just basic checks, but it’s worth being mindful of both.

When seeking references from candidates, it’s highly beneficial in some instances to go beyond the basic confirmation of employment history and job titles. If needed, it may be best to ask the referee open-ended questions to better understand the candidate's strengths and weaknesses, work ethic, teamwork, and overall performance.

This approach can reveal more about a candidate's character and abilities, while allowing you to make a more informed decision during the hire. That said, a basic reference check will suffice, and this can be done digitally to help accelerate the hiring process.

Reed Screening conducted research into 100,000 employment references, and the results highlighted significant issues within the referencing process, including:

  • Volume – of the 100,000 references requested, only 61% were returned.

  • Veracity – of those returned, 31% were found to have discrepancies against information provided by the candidate.

  • Value – 81% of those received contained only the dates of employment.

  • Verification – 65% of referee information provided by the candidate was incorrect.

Verify authenticity

Reviewing a candidate's work history is vital in order to verify that the information supplied by a candidate is factual. If they are concealing information from a potential employer, this can have severe consequences.

You may start to question the honesty and integrity of a candidate, which could push back your hiring timeframe and restart parts of the recruitment process, which costs time and money.

Ensure the reference is authentic and not fabricated by the candidate. Request references from official company email addresses or phone numbers to confirm the identity of the referee, or by using instant referencing – which uses payroll and open banking data to verify dates of employment and salary information. This can help prevent fraudulent references.

Recently, there has been a spike in hiring fraud and so-called "reference houses": legitimate-looking websites with seemingly genuine email and telephone details, which exist to offer fake references in exchange for money. It's important that organisations develop their approach to tackling this problem by running IP address checks of online references, auto look-ups against known reference houses, and pre-verified legitimate company addresses.

Standard referencing systems that simply automate the reference process are unlikely to pick up organised fake references which, ultimately, are being used to mask something from the candidate's work history.

Make security a priority

Manual processes are often carried out via email, risking personal data being sent to the wrong email address, or being intercepted. Many safeguards are put in place to ensure that doesn't happen, but as this information is shared in emails and documents that are sent back and forth, it becomes more susceptible to fraud and data breaches.

Employers must be aware of and compliant with UK data protection and privacy laws, such as GDPR. Request consent from the candidate to contact their referees and handle their data. Be transparent about the purpose of the reference check.

Respect confidentiality and be objective

Former employers may not always be open to sharing details about a candidate's performance due to confidentiality agreements, which must be respected. In this case, it may be necessary to ask the candidate to supply an alternative professional reference, or you may have to decide whether you want to risk proceeding.

Avoid making assumptions or subjective judgements based solely on referee feedback. Remember that referees may have their own biases or motivations. Take the information as one part of the decision-making process, considering it alongside other factors, including employment history, credentials, and training.

Ask for recent references

To get a more accurate picture of a candidate's current capabilities and work style, request or use references from their most recent employers.

The referee must be verified to validate the credibility of the information, also checking the details of the candidate’s employer – this eliminates any false information being taken into account, helping to reduce the risk of errors.

Cross-check the information

It can be easy for fraudsters to conceal the correct data when reference checks aren’t enforced. Best practice would be to include a full review of cross-referencing information supplied, and further analysis of any questionable gaps or red flags in between.

Remember to look for inconsistencies and discrepancies, as this can provide valuable insight into a candidate's honesty and integrity.

Keith Rosser

Director, Reed Screening

Remember to look for inconsistencies and discrepancies, as this can provide valuable insight into a candidate's honesty and integrity. Even with a digital process, it’s still considered best practice to double check the information.

Develop a reference policy

Establish a clear reference-checking policy that outlines the process and standards for conducting the checks. The policy should be consistently applied to all candidates to ensure fairness and compliance – whether manual or digital.

On all CVs, be sure to review the work history, employment-gap evidence and references – including analysis of the dates supplied and explanations required for any misleading information – as this is essential to maintain and create a safer world at work for all.

Instant referencing

Employment referencing is a valuable tool that can help employers make well-informed hiring decisions. Failure to complete checks as an employer could open you up to risk of financial or reputational damage.

Instant referencing automates the process of collecting and verifying employment references, making it faster and more efficient than traditional methods. Using such platforms provides quality data directly from your candidate’s past employers, which can be used to make better hiring choices.

Reed Screening's automated reference checking software provides you with a hassle-free way of delivering checks. After providing us with the candidate details, you can sit back and let the automation kick in. The software works with your potential new employee to contact, chase and obtain the reference.

If as an employer you hire someone without a reference, it can be challenging to assess the candidate's suitability for your role just based on interviews and their CV. In this ever-changing, technology-focused world you can make your hiring process seamless, and workload lighter, by doing it digitally with an automated platform.

For more information on how our instant referencing technology can help accelerate and streamline your hiring process, get in touch with one of our experts