FRIDAY HR FAQS – Requesting a reference – why it’s important and what you can ask for

Bringing a new employee into your business is an important step no matter the size of your business. You’ve completed the recruitment process and believe they are the best candidate for the job. You’ve interviewed them, think that they have the right skills and attitude and found that they would fit in to the culture of the team. So why should you care about confirming their previous employment?

Why ask for references?

Receiving references is an invaluable tool to fact check that the candidate has been truthful about their experience on their CV, that they worked at the company for the time they said and that they performed the role listed on their CV. This confirmation can also provide reassurance that you have chosen the right candidate.

This process can also be used to check that there are no gaps in their employment which are unexplained and could be a cause for concern. Checking references, including a personal reference can explain this and ease your mind as to the reason for any employment gap e.g. career break, travel, job search post redundancy.

At what point do you ask for references?

References can be asked for at any point in the recruitment stage. Typically, they are requested once you have found your preferred candidate. This can be done at the point of making an offer to a candidate or afterwards. Often the candidate receives a conditional offer, with the contract stipulating that receiving satisfactory references are a requirement of the contract. This will offer you protection if the references you receive aren’t satisfactory as you may then be able to withdraw the offer or terminate their employment if they have already started.

You can also ask for a character reference; however, it is worth noting that this would usually be given on a personal basis from their referee and it is unlikely companies will provide one.

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What can you ask for in a reference?

Before requesting a reference, you will need to get the candidate’s consent, they will at that point also give the contact details of their referees.

When contacting their reference, you should ask for the information that you want to know about the employee and what is relevant to the role and your business.

References can include:

  • basic facts about the job applicant, like employment dates and job descriptions
  • answers to questions that the potential employer has specifically asked about the job applicant that are not usually given as basic facts, like absence levels and confirming the reason for leaving
  • details about the job applicant’s skills and abilities
  • details about the job applicant’s character, strengths and weaknesses relating to the suitability for the role they have applied for

It is worth noting that regardless of what you ask for the respondent is not required, by law, to answer each question you ask or to even give a reference at all. Most companies now typically respond with an employment confirmation on their own company headed paper, and usually confirms their employment dates as well as their job title whilst they were working there. All references need to be fair, honest and consistent.

What if their previous employer refuses to give a reference?

Certain companies, such as ones regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority are required by law to give a reference when requested. However, companies in other industries have no obligation to provide you with a reference. If this is the case, you can then ask for other ways to prove their time at that company, such as the employee providing you with payslips or a P60/P45.

Doing your due diligence on new employees by requesting references is a useful way to provide reassurance that you have selected the right candidate, and can help prevent issues that may arise once they have already joined your business.

If you need any HR and talent help or advice, get in touch:+44 203 538 5311 or email: hello@hrrevolution.co.uk or visit www.hrrevolution.co.uk where our expert CIPD HR professionals are waiting to help you with any questions you may have.

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