September 22nd, 2016 | Sterling

Reference Checks: Are They Worth It?

Completing an extensive criminal record check for a candidate, on top of verifying employment and educational history, is crucial when determining whether or not to hire an employee. Yet, when it comes to reference checks, some consider it a very minor step, often categorizing it as irrelevant, unnecessary and bothersome. While the reference check by its nature is already subjective, the information it could potentially unveil is very important to take into consideration.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a reference check? Why do you need to conduct them on your candidates? What is the best way to get your reference check to give you all of the information you need? These are only a few questions to think about when running a reference check. To help you get all of the details, we conducted an interview with Daryl Santos, Sterling Talent Solutions’ Business Relationship Manager, to talk about the reference check service and its benefits for your organization.
Here is a summary of some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this service.

Question 1: What is a reference check? And what will we gain from it?

A reference check is an interview conducted on a candidate’s referee, normally a supervisor or manager that dealt with the candidate on his/her previous employment. If you are an employer, and you want this check to be done for your candidate, you either (1) wish to check your candidate’s work ethics in the past, or (2) you are very interested to know the overall job performance of your candidate, or (3) you wish to explore the character of your candidate, how he/she behaved in the past. It can be any combination of the three but it all boils down to one fundamental goal – a form of predictive validity – that you will be able to use not just in setting your expectations towards a particular candidate, but also to discover any areas of improvement that the check would uncover.

Question 2: My candidate already prepared the necessary referees, but what questions should I ask them in order to get the most information I would need to make my hiring decision?

Asking the right questions will help you get the information you need. More often than not, the right questions vary depending on the position for which your candidate is applying. For example, you would have to explore the leadership background of your candidate if you are onboarding a supervisor but you will not be asking the same set of questions if you are onboarding someone on an entry-level job at your company. Aside from targeted questions, which are questions that are designed to find out a specific information, you’ll also have to ask reinforcing questions, or questions that will reinforce the credibility and consistency of the previous statements provided to you. A reference is only as reliable as to how accurate and truthful it is. Here at Sterling Talent Solutions, we have four general templates ready to be used at your disposal: Basic, Standard, Investigative, and Executive – all designed to capture the information you need for any positions you may offer for your organization. We also have two industry specific templates as well, the Patient-Care templates for all nursing or patient-care positions and the Controlled Goods template for candidates participating in the Controlled Goods Program (CGP).

Question 3: I’ve seen your templates but I think I would like to add a little more, would that be an option?

We would always want you to get the best out of all our services including the reference checks. Here at Sterling Talent Solutions, we accept ad hoc requests to add any additional question you may prefer. If you wish to add more, you can simply contact our Client Support team, your respective account executives or managers for more details. If you also want a fully-customized template, you may also discuss this with them.

Question 4: I tried calling referees before and sometimes they pick up, but most of the time they don’t. How can we make sure that we successfully get ahold of a reference?

No matter how good the information a referee holds, it doesn’t matter if we can’t get it from them. Referees could range from very busy managers to mobile site supervisors, and this is the challenge to everyone. On the other end, let’s say you were provided as a referee by your friend, and you were unaware that your details were provided – it’d be just as easy to miss the call if you’re not expecting it. We understand not only your needs and the needs of your candidates, but also the needs of referees. Generally, we contact the referees twice by phone and also twice via email so that they have the option to get back to us with the information we need at the most convenient methodology. We also have well-trained in-house interviewers who can conduct interviews in English, French, Spanish or Portuguese. If there’s a need to conduct an interview at a different language, we can make arrangements to hire external translators which can be mobilized upon your approval.

However, a successful reference check also depends on the candidate. A well informed referee who is properly informed that they will be contacted (by their candidate), has a significantly higher chance of being reached than someone who is caught by surprise. And this happens very frequently.

Also, the accuracy of the information that a candidate will provide would also be substantial in a reference check’s success as using outdated phone numbers or email addresses could prove to be detrimental in the processing of their references. On cases where a particular referee can only be contacted at a certain time – we can make arrangements internally, as long as we are informed on any preferred time that a referee should be contacted.

Question 5: I am the referee and I know I missed your call; may I just call you back?

Absolutely! All referees may simply call us back at our toll free number 1-866-455-5679. Our lines are open from 9:00 am to 9:00pm Eastern Standard Time.

For all candidate inquiries, we have a separate line ready to assist them, it is 1-866-455-5689 or they may send us an email at

For more information on how to get the most out of reference checks, read Chapter 3 of our eBook.

Background Screening 101

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.