Tips on reference checking


There’s been a recent increase in the amount of fraudulent references – here’s some tips from Aaron’s Department, so as you don’t get caught out.

The Interview:

When interviewing, confirm with the candidate who is the appropriate person for you to call for a reference. Don’t rely on details written on a CV or application form. Ask specifically who they reported to for each of their previous positions and, if they are still in that position, how long they reported to them.

If you use an application form insert a statement above where they sign. “I give my permission for ????????? Ltd to contact all of the above companies and individuals for the purpose of confirming employment dates and/or providing a reference”.
Alternatively you could go through each previous employer noted on the application form or CV, and ask the candidate about their job, what they did, how they enjoyed it and if they had any problems or issues whilst they were there. You should be trying to dig up information that you can ask further questions about during the interview and during the follow up reference check. After you have gone through the employment history it is then an ideal time to produce a “permission to contact all references form” and ask them to sign it. This can result in some spectacular backtracking.

The Reference:

  • always treat a reference you have requested more seriously than one an applicant brings in,
  • always make sure a reference received by letter is on company headed paper and is ideally stamped with a company stamp,
  • always check that a reference received by email has been sent from a company email address. Not a free email service like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo,
  • telephone numbers should be from landlines.


It is now very easy for a candidate to print out a document that looks genuine, so look closely and ask yourself the following questions:

  • has the actual headed paper been printed by a printing firm or on an inkjet or laser printer. (Headed paper printed in bulk by a printing firm will be sharper and any patterns or logos can be printed right up to the edge of the paper. Inkjet or laser printers need to leave a border around the page),
  • look at the typed writing. Has it been produced by an inkjet or laser printer? Most offices have laser printers. A laser printer is usually sharper than an inkjet.
Stop! Don’t call the referee yet!

Don’t take the information you have been given for granted, validate! validate! validate!

Remember that anybody can throw together a website very easily so ensure you are using the official website. Search Google for the company. Is the website Google provides the same as the one you have been given? Are the address and telephone numbers the same?

Try using Google maps to check that the company is at the address provided. (Street view is brilliant for this.)

Check Companies House. They operate a free web check service so you can easily check lots of information about a registered company, including when it was formed.

If the reference relates to an entity in the care industry, you can use the CQC website.

Always make sure you check that the telephone number provided is a landline and not a mobile. Then check if it is valid.

Phone the reception of an organisation to confirm the name and title of the referee and also confirm the number you have been given to contact them is the correct one.

When You Call Them

Ensure that you identify the person you are talking to.

Only conduct a reference check on a mobile number if it has been confirmed by, or given to you, by the company’s reception.

Confirm the dates of employment but be sure not to repeat the ones you have been given by the candidate. Get the referee to state them.

Be polite but ask questions and then follow up with probes for specifics.
Try “Is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should know?”
If you get a “poor” comment, you need to probe for evidence just like you probe the candidate for specifics.
Listen to the non-verbals: the hesitancy, the qualifiers (“well I would if…”) and the lack of or abundance of enthusiasm.

If you have received a written reference always ring them and confirm verbally that the reference has actually come from them and check with the company that the person who has given the reference is authorised to do so.

FINALLY… Remember not all referees are fair or balanced and some companies print their headed paper as they go, using inkjet printers. You will have to look at the whole picture. Treat anything that is unusual as suspicious and investigate but keep an open mind to the possibility that that dodgy looking website is genuine.