Getting Reference Checks Right

Source: Photobucket
                     Photo Source: Photobucket

Retail Hiring: Getting Reference Checks Right

I have always been surprised to find out that during the reference check process my teams, specifically in the field level management position, are more or less resigned to getting the basic “Are they rehirable?” question answered. I found out, with a company a couple years ago, the Store Managers had been told to “fake” their reference check forms, because “they don’t matter”.

In retail we, typically, have not invested a lot of time into the reference check process for a couple of reasons: (1) We feel as though most hires are transient in nature (especially at the store level) so why bother [yikes, right?!?], (2) People are only going to give us reference names and contact information of those who will provide them with a glowing review, (3) managers have never been trained on how to properly reference check candidates, and (4) at the store level, managers are not comfortable delegating this process to their assistants because they don’t understand the process themselves.

This is an area that has been very much neglected in training but, to ensure that your candidate is a likely fit and will be a valuable addition to your team, the reference checking process is extremely important and needs attention. My goal of this post is to provide information on this process to bring more clarity around and value to this accountability for our retail teams.

From Allison Doyle, here is a great resource as posted on About (dot) com, What Employers Can Say About You. Here are some of the key points:

“Some job seekers presume that companies can only legally release dates of employment, salary, and your job title. However, that’s not the case.”:

“There are no federal laws restricting what information an employer can – or cannot – disclose about former employees.”

“In most cases, employers aren’t legally prohibited from telling another employer that you were terminated, laid off, or let go. They can even state the reasons as to why you lost your job. If an employer falsely states that you were fired or cites an incorrect reason for a termination that is damaging to your reputation, then you could sue for defamation.”

“State labor laws vary, so check your state labor department website for information on state labor laws that limit what employers can disclose about former employees.”

“Legally, they can say anything that is factual and accurate.”

What should the candidate expect and how can they help prepare for reference checks?

-The candidate should expect to provide 3-5 references (preferrably former supervisors)
-The candidate should provide names, titles, and phone numbers for these references and ensure that the references expect the phone call and know it is okay to share information with the caller
-They should communicate to their references what job role and company they are interviewing for and with

Best Behavioral Based Reference Check Questions

From the SHRM blog, Reference Check Checkup here are some of the behavioral based question to ask to truly determine the quality and fit of your final candidate(s):

-What were “X’s” job responsibilities and salary?
-Was “X” successful in their role at your organization? Why or Why not?
-What was it like to supervise “X”?
-What unique skills did “X” bring to your organization?
-What do you consider to be “X’s” strengths?
-What would you consider “X’s” great area(s) of opportunity to be?
-Do you think “X” competencies and work ethic are suitable for the role we are considering them for?
-Why did “X” leave your organization?
-Would you rehire “X”? Why or Why not?
-What do we need to be aware of to ensure that we create an environment that will help the “X” succeed?”

Work in partnership with your candidate. Let them know that you will be asking questions to assess both the job fit and cultural fit for both the candidate and the company and if they should let their references know that they are encouraged to share honest feedback with whomever will be calling.

Reference checks are crucial to understanding what your candidate can bring to their role with your organization and how they likely bring value to their role and the culture of the company. This process will also help them understand the value of honesty and transparency that is expected in your organization.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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