Everything you Need to Know about Requesting a Reference image

Everything you Need to Know about Requesting a Reference

Staff Squared date icon28th October 2020

Tag iconManaging staff

There are no two ways about it, the recruitment process is a long and winding road. Between advertising openings and pouring over CVs to interviewing candidates, there’s so much involved in finding the perfect person for the job.  

But it doesn’t just stop at offering them the position. The final step in the process is to obtain references to ensure that there’s nothing you should be concerned about before getting your new starter to sign on the dotted line.   


Why Should I Ask for References? 

References are an integral part of any recruitment process for several reasons. First and foremost, they serve as a background check to ensure that the candidate hasn’t made up or over-exaggerated their CV to look more impressive. It’s not unheard of for interviewees to blag’ their way through, so you should always confirm their previous employment is as they say it is. 

Furthermore, seeking references from previous employers allows you to: 

  • Check their previous salary. One of the more common reasons for people looking to move job is to improve their financial situation, but at the same time, you want to be sure you aren’t wasting money by offering a salary that’s way too high. 
  • Confirm the reason why the candidate left their previous employments. If they have told you that their contracted ended but they were let go for misconduct, you need to know.  
  • Get an idea of how suitable the candidate is for your business by asking certain questions on your request for a reference.  

What Can I Ask For? 

When requesting a reference from a previous employer, you want to confirm the candidate’s employment. This means that you are entitled to ask for information such as their: 

  • Job title. 
  • Main responsibilities. 
  • Length of employment (including start and end dates). 
  • Attendance record and number of sick days taken. 
  • Current or leaving salary. 
  • Disciplinary records (if applicable). 

You can also ask if there are any reasons as to why the candidate should not be employed.  

If you are conducting a telephone interview to obtain a reference, some question you may want to ask include: 

  • What were the main responsibilities of the candidate in their last role? 
  • What are the candidate’s greatest strengths? 
  • Do you think the candidate is qualified for this new role? 
  • What specific qualities does the candidate have that will help them fulfil these responsibilities? 
  • What kind of management style did the candidate respond best to? 
  • What sort of office environment did the candidate work best in? 
  • How well did the candidate handle a specific skill or situation? 
  • What was the candidate’s reason for leaving? 
  • Would you rehire this candidate? 

Is There Anything I Can’t Ask for? 

Try to avoid questions that solicit simple yes or no answers. Any questions you ask should be as open-ended as possible and you should let the referee do most of the talking. Don’t ask leading questions – let the referee supply the information instead. For example, rather than saying “John Smith has told us that one of his key responsibilities was x – is that correct?” ask “What were some of John Smith’s key responsibilities?”. 

Don’t ask questions that are: 

  • Designed to solicit negative comments, such as “What are this candidate’s weaknesses?”. Most referees will feel uncomfortable giving bad feedback on a previous employee.  
  • Too general or open to interpretation, such as “What is your impression of this candidate’s character?”. It’s best to stick to the skills involved in the candidate’s old and new positions. 

Is There Any Other Relevant Information I Should be Aware of? 

Some things to remember when requesting references: 

You must always have the permission of the candidate before you make a request for a reference – which is why asking for reference details as part of your recruitment policy is a really important step. If a candidate has included references on their CV, you can take this as permission to contact their stated referees. 

Be consistent when comparing candidates – It’s best to prepare your questions in advance and keep detailed notes of the answers so you don’t stray into unconscious bias. 

Companies are not legally obliged to provide a reference if asked – If they ignore your request, there’s not a lot you can do. You may be able to ask the candidate to bring it up with their employer but beyond that, you are at the mercy of the company. 

Be clear on your reference policy – Some job offers are given conditionally based on satisfactory references. If an employer doesn’t provide a reference, then you may wish to consider hiring the candidate on a probationary basis. You could also do this if the reference suggests a candidate may be unsuitable – remember an employer isn’t infallible. 

Candidate can ask to see their references under the Data Protection Act – It’s up to the candidate to request access but it’s something you should mention in your reference request as a reminder to the employer.  

Is There a Reference Request Letter Template I Can Use? 

To make things simple, you can download a variety of recruitment document templates for a one-off fee of £4.99. These include: 

  • Reference Request Form – An employer can send this form to an employee’s previous employer to request information regarding the prospective employee’s capabilities with regard to their role in their new job. 
  • Request for Employer Reference – An employer can ask a potential employee to provide the name and address of a referee so that they can write to them to confirm the details of their previous employment. 
  • Reply to Request for Employer Reference – It is good practice for employers to have a written policy on providing references. Employers have duties towards the subject and the recipient of the reference. They must take reasonable care to ensure that the information in the reference is true, accurate and fair, and does not give a misleading impression. 

 You can download these templates here. 

Written by Clarisse Levitan

Marketing and Customer Relations Advisor - Staff Squared

Clarisse works as the Lead of our Customer Care Team to provide our customers with the very best care and guidance when using their HR software and is responsible for our day-to-day marketing activities and strategies.

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