Requesting a reference
6th October 2017
So you’ve got your vacancies out there into the wider world, sifted through a pile of CVs and interviewed some of the more interesting candidates. You think you’ve found the right person for the role, but there’s one last step to take, and that’s getting a reference to make sure there’s nothing you should be concerned about.
References have a number of uses. They’re best used just for ensuring a candidate hasn’t made up their CV to look more impressive. In theory, a candidate could tell you anything, and if they’re switched on they could potentially blag their way through some tricky questions. So, a reference from a previous employer can at least verify they have worked where they say they have.
Not only that, but you can 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.
Finally, you can get an idea of how suitable the candidate is for your business by asking certain questions on your request for a reference. You can’t ask anything though, there are certain limitations on what’s permitted.
What can you ask for?
One of the core elements of a reference request is confirmation of a candidate’s employment. So you’re able to ask for information on their job title, how long they’ve worked in that role, what their current or leaving salary is or will be and if there are any live disciplinary proceedings that the candidate is going through. ‘Live’ means still active, whether the candidate is still employed or the candidate left the employment before the proceedings were concluded.
You can also attach a job description for the role you’re advertising, and ask the employer to comment on the candidate’s suitability. Don’t expect to receive a glowing testimonial or a damning hatchet job – the reply should be as objective as possible, only flagging serious concerns about the candidate related to the job spec.
What can’t you ask for?
You can’t ask for personal opinions on the candidate, and if you receive them as part of the reference you receive back you should try to disregard them. The only information you can ask for is anything relevant to the job. This is why you need to make sure your interview process is robust, so that you’re able to judge whether a person is the right fit for your business. You can’t rely on feedback about a candidate’s personality from their past employees.
Anything else to note?
One thing you cannot do is make a request for a reference without the permission of the candidate. Actively seeking out their job history through LinkedIn and contacting the employer to find out more is a big no-no. Hence why it’s important to ask for reference details as part of your recruitment policy. If a candidate has references on their CV, permission is implied.
Be aware also that there’s no legal obligation for a company to provide you with a reference. 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.
It’s for this reason that you should be clear on your reference policy. Often a job offer may be made 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.
Finally, it’s worth noting that a 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. They may wish to mark some parts of the reference as confidential, in case you wish to discuss the reference with the candidate anyway, but this confidentiality is overruled by the Data Protection Act if the candidate asks to see it.
Reference requests made easy
To make things simple for you, we’ve provided a template letter to use when requesting a reference. Just add your details to personalise it and then send it to the employer to ask for a candidate reference.
You can download the reference request letter template here.
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