3 Ways to Ensure You’re Getting Quality Reference Checks on Your Candidates

Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP
February 4 2016

Reference checks have long been a standard part of the hiring process and can be useful in assessing a candidate’s experience, abilities, and work ethic. Quality references can also shed light on a candidate’s daily job functions, project involvement, trainability, and strengths so that you can more easily predict your return on investment in them as an employee.

With more than half of job seekers admitting to lying on their resumes, reference checks are crucial to helping verify that the information your candidate has provided is accurate. There are a few common mistakes employers make with professional or personal references that lead to skewed information. These tips can help ensure you get quality references.


1. Ask for the Right Number of References

There is no magic number of reference checks that a potential employer should request. Many of our clients elect to request three references and, based on the responses received, may request more after the initial ones have been contacted.

We often run into cases where one of the provided references is unavailable for interview during the background check period. As long as the other two provide a quality reference, many clients won’t request additional references from the applicant.

However, if we receive no responses or only one, clients will often request an additional reference check or two. A lack of quality references could indicate that the applicant has oversold his or her relationships and is not as qualified as implied.

Some companies will request seven or more references, but too many references can result in lower quality. Your applicant may fill the request with personal friends or family members and you could lose time and money vetting everyone on the list.


2. Ask for a Specific Type of Reference

Some employers ask for general reference checks and do not specify what constitutes a quality reference. Your candidate may ask their friends, subordinates, partners, or even family members to give them recommendations under the guise of colleagues.

To discourage this type of behavior, ensure that you ask for at least one reference from a manager. Verify that the candidate did work for this person in the supplied capacity so you can get a comprehensive view of your potential employee’s workplace behavior.

References from superiors can be particularly helpful as these individuals tend to interact with the candidate often and rate their performance. If the manager reference is unavailable, you may want to ask for another.


3. Research the References

If you want to ensure that the reference has a professionally helpful opinion of the potential hire, do a quick Internet search on each name you receive. If you find that the candidate and reference are professionally linked online or on social media, they may be a quality reference check.

If, alternatively, you find no indication of a relationship online, you may have been provided a fake reference, the reference may have moved or changed numbers, or the reference may simply have no online presence. If this is the case for all provided references, you may want to ask for alternatives.

Get Quality Reference Checks Without All the Hassle

A simple way to get the best references on your candidate is to hire a reputable background screening company. Professional, accredited screeners can build lists of helpful questions for you, verify that each reference is a reputable source on the candidate’s qualifications, and collect the responses.

About Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart 30 years ago. Deemed the “Queen of Screen,” she’s been a force behind industry-leading innovations. She was most recently the first-to-market with a fully compliant sanctions search, as well as a suite of identity services that modernizes talent onboarding. Tammy revolutionized the screening industry when she stepped into the field, developing the first client-facing application and a due diligence criminal search that has since become standard for all background screening companies. Cohen has received national awards and honors for her business and civic involvement, including Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 25 Women-Owned Firms in Atlanta, Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year award, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia’s Kathryn Woods Racial Justice Award, and a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record. To learn more about Tammy, visit

About InfoMart

InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for 30 years, providing businesses the information they need to make informed hiring decisions. They develop innovative technology that modernizes talent onboarding, including a first-to-market biometric identity authentication application and a verified sanctions search. The WBENC-certified company is a founding member of the Professional Background Screening Association, and they have achieved PBSA accreditation in recognition of their consistent business practices and commitment to compliance with the FCRA. The company is dedicated to customer service, speed, and accuracy, and it has been recognized for its success, workplace culture, and corporate citizenship with over 45 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.

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