Should you ask candidates for references?

Yes, unless you think your next employee is Spider-man disguised as Peter Parker! Reference checks help you validate the information and instincts you already have about your candidate, and give you the conviction and confidence needed to make the right hiring decisions. 

In some cases, they will keep you from hiring people that may not be the right fit for you, or even be dangerous to the workplace.

Let’s start by first differentiating employment verification from reference checks because many companies think that they are both the same and that’s where the trouble lingers.

Difference between employment verification and reference checks

Employment verification is the process of verifying if the candidate actually worked or interned in the places he/she mentioned in the application process.

Reference checks on the other hand, run far deeper than employment verification. They are an opportunity for you to learn about the candidates from the people who have worked with them day in and day out - you can learn of your candidate’s strengths and achievements from another perspective, you can try to understand if they are reliable, if they play for the team, honor company values and culture and more - things that employment verification won’t even scratch into.

The two rock-solid benefits of religiously running reference checks:

When to ask for candidate references?

The perfect time to ask your candidates for references is right before the final round, after a hiring decision is made, and before an attractive, irresistible offer is rolled out. Do not ask for references in your application forms or resume templates, or even at the screening or interviewing stage. Remember, most candidates do not want to alert their current employer about their job search.

What to include in the email while asking candidates for references?

How to ask candidates for references - Email template

Subject line: [Job_Title] at [Company_name]

Preview text: Please send in your references so we can move forward.

Body of the email:

Hi [Candidate_name],

Thank you for taking the time to interview with us for the position of [Job_Title]. Our team was impressed with your assignments and would like to advance you to the final round of the interview process. 

Can you please quickly send in three of your professional references, clearly mentioning their names, your reporting relationships, and the means to contact them? It would be really helpful if you can send it in before [preferred date].

Please feel free to hit reply or give me a call if you have any doubts. Hoping to see you on the other side!

All the best,
[Your Name]

[Email signature]


Bonus section: some good questions to start a valuable conversation with the references

Remember, this is a great place to ask the questions your team couldn’t discover answers to during the interview process. So feel free to add any questions that are relevant to you and your team/company specifically.