It’s a polarising topic, you either love them or hate them. Are reference checks in this digital world still worth the effort?  Is a social media scan and LinkedIn profile check enough?

Reference check critics refuse to conduct them, believing they are the most frustrating part of the recruitment process, a tick and flick mere formality rather than a value-adding tool to confirm you’re hiring the perfect candidate.

There are several issues with reference checking and as my research has uncovered, this list is not exhaustive.


Referees can overstate qualifications, skills and work ethic. If a manager wants an employee to move on, they will give them a glowing reference to maximise any chance they will be offered the position and therefore, are off the managers hands.

If candidates have been initially terminated, most will be offered the opportunity to resign instead.

References have no obligation to specify this. Additionally, references will most likely not know the future role or insight into the company the employee has applied to. They will therefore find it difficult to know how the employee will perform in the position.


Candidates self-select their references and are aware it is not in their best interest to list anyone who will give them anything but a glowing recommendation.


A lengthy reference checking process can lose you candidates. If you take too long to lock down an outstanding candidate, you will lose them in this competitive employment marketplace.


Reference checks are no longer confidential, the reference could be sued for defamation as the candidate can request information from the reference check, particularly likely if they are not successful in the position.

On the other hand, advocates of reference checks believe the checks verify what the candidate is saying is true and confirms the hiring managers initial impression from the interview.

Worryingly, the potential problems with reference checks outlined above, can degrade the value of this verification.

But never fear!

If you still believe in the value of reference checks, there are a few tips you can employ to increase their value. Consider asking the candidate for a colleagues reference instead of their manager.

Colleagues can often provide a better insight into how they manage stress, whether they work too much, are they friendly and helpful?

Ask challenging questions in the reference check and listen to how they answer, do they pause before answering whether they would hire them again?

In Summary

Although technology allows us a number of other ways to assess suitability, if used correctly, reference checks can uncover potential areas for development to focus on during probation, put your mind at ease about any particular concerns (or justify them!) and/or provide confirmation you have a winning candidate on your hands.

Author: wattsnext Group
The wattsnext Group blog is a compilation of ideas and expertise from the entire team, past and present with a few added gems from guest authors from time to time. With this collaborative approach, we can provide you with a broader perspective and high-level expertise across the small business landscape.

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