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Due Diligence Pt II: Reference Checks

Don’t make the mistake of not checking references. Yes, this does happen, and it happens far more frequently than we are willing to admit. Many of us want to “go with our gut” and as we shared above, tap our networks for information about candidates. This has the potential to end in disaster, or at the very least, to lead to a bad match.

What kinds of references do you want? Many employers allow candidates to share their own lists of recommendations. While you cannot require a candidate to offer specific individuals as recommendations, you’re welcome to specify which categories you would like to hear from. Consider inviting recommendations from former or current supervisors, peers, subordinates, laypeople, students, and other colleagues. You may not get the exact list you’d like, but you will have a well-rounded picture of a prospective employee’s experience over the last number of years while not compromising what might be a private or confidential job search.

Reach out to the list of references offered by candidates and invite them to respond to a set of questions about the candidates. Make sure you’re asking the same set of questions of all recommendations for all candidates so that you can compare your data effectively. Ask great questions, questions that invite storytelling and that help you to develop a comprehensive picture of the candidate at work. Questions that begin with “tell me about….” are always helpful. Questions that elicit a yes or no response won’t glean much information. And be ready to follow up with “tell me more….”

When doing your due diligence, ask all the questions. We want to ask as many possible questions upfront so that when the time comes, we have fewer surprises. Many surprises that could have been posed as questions in advance lead to uncomfortable conversations and have been known even to contribute to rescinded offers. Make sure that you do this due diligence promptly, not waiting until the end of your process after a series of interviews after you’ve developed a relationship with a candidate. Waiting to do due diligence will likely trip you up and add unintended delays to the process.


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