References are a risky business – firstly, it’s unlikely someone would provide someone that would give them a bad reference. Secondly, a referee has the right to see their reference. So a referrer is unlikely to give a negative portrayal of them. After all, they might want a reference from that referee one day. So how do you make the reference process valuable?

A reference is more than a confirmation of past work history. This is your opportunity to find out from someone that has worked with your prospective new hire before, what they are truly like, what makes them tick and how they like to be managed. And of course whether what they say tallies with their previous work place. In the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) place, you’ll find out if in reality, your new hire actually has already been let go from their current company, and isn’t really working out their surprisingly ‘short’ notice period. In the best possible case, you can find out how they like to be managed and what you can do to get the best out of them. Perhaps they perform best with a hands off management style, and perhaps you’ll find out a nugget of information about them that the interview process didn’t reveal. Or perhaps you’ll find that they are more introvert in terms of personality style and even if they don’t respond initially with a huge amount of information – you should definitely keep engaging with them.

So how can you get the most out of the reference process?

Here are a few tips:

  • Ask the right questions. What do you want to know about your new hires?
  • Tailor it per role – you’ll want different information for different roles.
  • Ask the right people – get a reference from their last work place.
  • Get more than the dates – ensure you get a character reference
  • Don’t fall foul of HR rules – HR might not provide a detailed reference, ask your new hire to provide you with a direct email address and phone number
  • Put the onus on your new hire – tell them they cannot start until you have references
  • Send the references to your hiring manager and Head of that area of the business to review before the new hire joins