In order to bring you the most accurate and useful information possible, Employee Selection and Development, Inc. will be issuing PRACTICAL RESEARCH REPORTS quarterly. Its purpose is to give you practical and useful information on hiring, motivating, and managing employees. Should you have any questions or want further elaboration, please contact us by email or call 800-947-5678.

Bert Zinkand


Reference Checking

In recent years, many managers have given up on reference checking. Reasons we often hear are:

  • I’m too busy.
  • Other companies never give any useful information.
  • Other companies never give any information period.
  • Other companies are scared of saying something wrong and getting sued.

Does this mean we should give up on reference checking No. It means we have to be smarter about how we check the information, ask questions and listen to answers. If the position involves a large salary, have a professional background check done. It will save you money in the long run. If the position involves a moderate to low salary, here are some ideas that will save you money.

Checking Information

Studies have shown that some of the most exaggerated information on a job application is education, job experience and job responsibilities.


If someone says they have a college degree in business, call the college registrar and check. The answer may surprise you.

Job Experience

Another area of exaggeration is listing job experience with companies that have gone out of business. This is easily done as most managers give up when a phone number is no longer in service or emails are not answered. If an applicant lists three companies references and two are out of business, ask for more references. Or, search for them on the Web. Many times references to bankrupt companies still exist on the Internet.

Job Responsibilities

This is an area that is often over looked in a background check. If an application says the applicant managed a four person team, ask the reference to describe the applicants job responsibilities. If no mention is made of managing a four person team, you may have an exaggeration.

Asking Questions

When making your reference calls, tell the reference the applicant suggested you call. This usually makes the reference more comfortable and willing to talk about the applicant’s previous employment. Ask both specific and opened ended questions.

Third Party Verification Approach

The concept is to ask another manager to confirm a piece of information learned through an independent third party. Example:

You are using our Personality Profile and the results indicate the applicant is not detail oriented, ask We gave ______ a personality profile and it indicated he/she was not very detail oriented. Did you see any indication of that

In Comparison Approach

Same as the Third Party Verification approach but in comparison to other employees. Example:

You are using our Sales Skills assessment and the results indicate the applicant could be a poor closer, ask In comparison to other salespeople, was ______ a poor closer Or, How would you rank ______ in comparison to the rest of your sales force

Examples of Open Ended Questions:

  • How much supervision does the person require
  • How dependable was _______ Can you give me an example
  • How well does the person accept supervision
  • What actions did you take when the person had an unexplained absence (You are looking for the answer – The person never had any.)
  • What additional information can you give about the candidate

Listening For Answers

Often it is in what the former employer doesn’t say or how he or she says it that tells you the real story. Here’s a real life example. When asked if the applicant was a good employee, the reference became very quiet and said I don’t remember. Then after a long pause said, She was good on the computer. Desperately needing an employee, the applicant was hired. Five months later, the employee was fired for unexplained absences, three hour lunches, and arguing with the office manager about being late.


The next time you hear someone say it isn’t worth the time checking references, remind them of the cost of making a hiring mistake. It is usually four to six months salary, plus benefits, plus training time, plus the expense and hassle of finding a replacement. If you are like most companies that adds up to $17,000 or more. Take the time before you make the offer. Your bottom line will thank you.


If you would like to discuss this Practical Research Report further, please call us at 800-947-5678.