Reference checks: What do you really need to know?

The recruiting process is coming to an end and you are now making an offer to the candidate who stands out from the crowd. Reference checks are becoming increasingly difficult in Canada due to privacy rights. In addition, many companies have adopted recruitment policies that only allow verification of a candidate’s previous employment.

Kathy Murphy, Director of Human Resources for Regulus Investments Inc. notes that the primary purpose of reference checks is to determine the match between the position being filled and the candidate, and to clarify extended periods of unemployment, if applicable. Ms. Murphy advised that the CV should be carefully reviewed and that particular attention should be paid to any anomalies that may be present, including missing dates. Also, an overabundance of short-term jobs can be a bad sign. It’s important to know the reason behind all these anomalies; a candidate who hasn’t held a job for more than a year may have been in school… or in jail!

The type of position to be filled will dictate the extent of the audit to be conducted. When you use the services of a company such as Backcheck or Garda, investigators will verify the following elements, if applicable:

  • Criminal record
  • Background
  • Credit Rating
  • References
  • Previous employment
  • Verification of
  • Driving record

Prior to conducting a criminal record or credit check on an applicant, the applicant must give written permission. The criminal record check will determine whether the applicant has any unforgiven criminal offences on file. Few jobs require a fingerprint check, but employers may sometimes submit a candidate for a fingerprint check to ensure that the candidate does not have a criminal record.

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Credit rating checks are performed on companies with which the applicant has an account, including utilities, cable companies and department stores. To obtain credit, a person must provide employment information. It’s a bad sign if the jobs listed on the credit applications don’t match the jobs listed on the resume. Also, every payment made to a creditor leaves a trail; if a candidate’s credit file does not show regular activity, it may be another bad sign.

As an employer, you want to confirm several aspects of a candidate’s life through the references provided to you. Ideally, you want to contact at least two professional references and one personal reference to determine whether the candidate is trustworthy and whether he or she reports to work every day. In addition, it is important to verify the accuracy of the academic background, including the dates mentioned.

The following questions are acceptable and they allow you to learn a lot about a candidate:

1. How long have you known the candidate?
2. How long did you work with the candidate at XYZ Ltd.?
3. What were his responsibilities? What did he do for you?
4. Why did he leave that job?
5. What are his strengths?
6. Tell me how he can be trusted.
7. Is the candidate punctual?
8. How did he get along with his colleagues/bosses/subordinates?
9. How does the candidate go about working effectively on his or her own?
10. What are the candidate’s shortcomings or areas for improvement?
11. How do you see this candidate’s future in your company?

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Kathy Murphy says the most important question is, “Would you hire this candidate again? “In the majority of cases, respondents will give a sincere answer to this question. There are also tools that can be used to help you assess a candidate more thoroughly. Kathy uses the EQ-i Emotional Intelligence Test to complete a profile of the most promising candidates.

Beyond checking references, hiring the right candidate requires a good dose of intuition and the ability to read the candidate’s body language during the interview.

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