10 steps for getting references

Performing a reference check on job applicants is usually standard procedure, but while some organizations have detailed formal procedures other act more haphazardly.

Having a procedure in hand can help streamline the vetting process and ensure that hiring risks are minimized. At the 2014 Nonprofit Risk Summit, Melanie Lockwood Herman, executive director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, offered 10 steps for reference checking.

They are:

  • Obtain the applicant’s permission to verify any and all information provided on the application.
  • Identify relevant legal constraints (e.g., there might be questions an interviewer may ask prospective volunteers but not prospective employees).
  • Draft appropriate reference-check questions.
  • Select the method for obtaining references; assign responsibility.
  • Obtain references directly from the applicant or application; ask the applicant if there are people s/he doesn’t contacted and if so why.
  • “Qualify” the references: consider the nature of the relationship, the recency of the relationship and the relevance to the position sought.
  • Check references: begin by verifying information; don’t ask leading questions.
  • Continue by asking questions that help determine the applicant’s qualifications and whether there are any disqualifying issues.
  • Document the reference check.
  • Determine if additional action is required, e.g., if references provide information that conflicts with information on the application.