All referees are subjective to a degree, and may be biased either for or against the candidate.
The referee is giving a report of the candidate’s behaviour within his specific concern with its own unique culture. He will evaluate the candidate in terms of his personal standards and the standards set in the organisation, which often differ from person to person and company to company. Questions asked and how they are asked also influences the validity of the reference check.
Should the reference check produce information which is in essence contrary to the opinions of the recruiter or factually refutes information provided by the candidate, a second reference should be obtained from another person at the organisation or another employer. Even without a contradiction, it is desirable to obtain more than one reference. To be able to validate the reference check, it is recommended that references be checked after the first interview. This enables the recruiter to obtain a second opinion on his impressions of the candidate.
Steps to take:
- Take the reference from the person the candidate reported to. References should ideally be obtained from a superior able to provide information on observable on-the-job behaviour. Avoid checking references with referees nominated by the candidate unless it has been determined that the referee is qualified to comment on observable on-the-job behaviour.
- When initially contacting the organisation, ask for the referee by job title to check that the name provided as immediate supervisor, is the person the candidate reported to.
- State the purpose of the call, how long it is anticipated to take, and ask the referee whether it is convenient to give a reference then, or whether he would prefer the interviewer to call back later. The referee may be pressed for time or be in a situation where he can be overheard by others, which results in less considered and honest responses being obtained. Some referees always prefer to call back to verify the identity of the person requesting the reference.
- Stress that the reference is requested on the understanding that information provided will be treated as confidential.
- Verify the reporting relationship and the period of time the referee supervised or managed the candidate. The candidate may in fact have reported to a different person for a longer period, or have held another position more relevant to the one now being recruited for.
- Prepare the questions beforehand, paying particular attention to how they are phrased to ensure that leading questions are not asked. Rather ask: “What was his attendance and punctuality like” than “Was he always on time for work?”
- Do not ask questions about desirable human qualities like ambition, motivation, confidence, initiative, etc. without relating it to on-the-job behaviour. For example, rather than ask “Is he a confident person?”, ask “How did he react to customer complaints?”
Johann le Roux owner of Express Employment Professionals Pretoria.