March 21, 2015

Employee Reference Check Form

At CEDR Solutions, we often get questions that sound something like this:

Look, I know I did this backwards, but I hired someone and now we have a problem. She seemed great in the interview, but after we hired her, we discovered [insert inappropriate/shocking/ stupefying/scary behavior here]. So, I decided to call her references and you are not going to believe what I found out…

You may be surprised how often this situation arises. The doctor or manager failed to check the new employee’s references or do a background check, only to discover s/he had been dismissed from multiple businesses for suspicious or inappropriate conduct, served time for embezzlement or fraud, is working under a suspended license, or has sued four out of five of their last employers. While CEDR can help your office through these issues, wouldn’t it be better to have avoided that “bad hire” all together?

We employers have a serious quandary. We all want to know the “goods” on a new hire, but we’re all gun shy to tell each other the truth when the next prospective employer calls. And for good reason. We’ve been wisely advised not to discuss the details of a former employee because it could get us sued. Accordingly, rather than call an applicant’s former employer, usually the best predictor of future performance, we skip it thinking it’s probably just a waste of time, and instead we go with our gut. But often the best manipulators/deceivers/embezzlers are also the best at interviewing. What we all need are ways to avoid costly hiring mistakes, get the goods, and hire smarter.

So What Can You Do?

Hiring a professional to do a background check is always advisable. (Our partner is National Crime Search.) While it’s tempting to conduct your own internet search, this is very risky. Looking up the applicant’s social media page, or doing your own mini credit check is also a bad idea. Information available on the internet can be inaccurate, outdated, or false. If you rely on it, you risk eliminating qualified candidates based on useless information. Additionally, because you can’t “unlearn” protected information you discover on a personal webpage, like the applicant’s sexual orientation or that he’s a cancer survivor, you could end up being accused of discriminatory hiring practices. If there’s a provable indication that you knew of the applicant’s protected class and allowed it to affect your hiring decision, you may end up party to a lawsuit. But there are a lot of things you can do on your own, and to get the information you need to make an informed hiring decision.

What if you simply want to verify information or check references before doing a full-fledged background check?
Learn more details in our SECRETS below.

Five Secrets to Reference Checks

Secret 1: Get the Applicant Talking. Before even trying to verify references from third parties, why not get the information from the source. Near the end of your interview, tell the applicant that it is your standard policy to verify references and ask them if there is anything they want to explain before you do. You will be surprised how many confessions you get. The process also gives you insight into the kind of person you are dealing with and how they handle stress. It will go something like, “Well, they will tell you that I threw the doctor off the building but I want you to know he jumped. I swear!”

Secret 2: Make Applicants Back it Up with Documents. If the job requires a state certification, license, or the applicant claims s/he has a certain level of education, get supporting documents. Require a copy of the license, degree, transcript, or diploma. Then, check it thoroughly. Anyone can pay around $200 for a credible and professional looking counterfeit diploma with transcripts. So, do look for signs that the document has been altered, faxed from a different number than the granting body’s published fax number, or has any spelling or name discrepancies.

Secret 3: Don’t Take Their Word for It. Ask for the prior employer, school, or accrediting body’s address and contact number. Then, use the internet to confirm the address provided isn’t in the middle of the Hudson River, and verify that the address and phone number are published numbers for the business, and not just their buddy posing as a manager.

You should always ask for specific, detailed contact information, but to confirm work history, prior employment, and education, you must dig a little deeper. CALL THE NUMBERS and don’t just ask for the name provided. Ask to speak with the person responsible for verifying transcripts, hire dates, etc., and get the name and title of the person you speak to.

Secret 4: Read Between the Lines. As you know, former employers are likely to be closed-lipped in discussing their former problem employees. But if you pay attention to the signals, you will learn a lot. Always ask the question, “Is the person eligible for rehire?” Even if they won’t tell you the reason for termination, they often will tell you that much. Tone of voice matters, too. Many people will simply repeat their statement over and over in a monotone voice when they are trying not to say something negative. If they do talk and say positive things, pay attention to what is not said. Also, remember that opinions are often biased. If you do get the person talking, it is perfectly reasonable to take all opinions with a grain of salt.

Secret 5: Verify Information You Already Have. Finally, former employers are more inclined to verify specific questions about information given by the applicant than to offer general answers or opinions. Applicants are famous for quickly jotting down information like, “2008-2009 Acme Widget Company — Manager in charge of developing the black holes the roadrunner uses to escape.” Check the dates on the application against the dates the former employer provides. Also, using the example above, confirm that the Black Hole Division exists, and that the applicant was responsible for creating new black hole technology. If Acme tells you they weren’t producing black holes during the dates provided, it’s a red flag.

Make a hiring mistake and need help? Call CEDR Solutions at 866 414 6056 or email us at We will help you figure out if your new hire is worth coaching and getting them to self-correct, or if it would be better for you (and them!) to let them pursue other job opportunities. If you do need to let them go, our Solution Center experts can help you by doing an analysis of the risks with you, and even writing a termination letter for you.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.