Do reference checks matter?

Written by Andrea Frith

Traditionally, employers want to make sure that recruitment is safeguarded as much as possible and need to check that the hiring decision is the right one. References have been the main source of this information but sometimes do get missed or not followed up as it can be a time-consuming process. 

In an ideal world, it would be great to be able to speak directly with the potential employees most previous Line Manager and ask all the questions around time-keeping, attendance, team fit, ability to do job and reason for leaving. In reality, this is not possible, most line managers will be unable to respond to reference requests and it will be referred to HR.  It is also now very common for employees to have had a number of roles and how do you know how far back to go?

There is also a school of thought around should references be a way of safeguarding your hire or should they be used during the selection process to aid in making the decision.

Recently there has been a small trend that some organisations are not taking references and are allowing the main contingent labour to work with no checks.

How risky is this and does the time saved counterbalance this risk?

  1. Employees in the main only provide referee details of individuals they know will give a good report. How relevant will it be, and does it really count? This is where a good recruiter will know how to question the detail of the referee and become smarter at spotting any issues.
  2. More and more organisations will only confirm dates of employment and make no comment on the ability to do the job, attendance, team fit and reason for leaving. What value does this have and how long has it taken to request this? Employment legislation has made many companies unsure of what they can and can`t say, therefore most will air on the side of caution.
  3. It is also becoming a trend to get permission from the former employee to allow a reference to be released. Is this just diluting the information given?


Safeguarding is always going to be important and it would seem to be very risky to stop carrying out any checks on candidates and here is why:

  1. Some candidates do lie on their CVs. Even if this is a little white lie, is this the type of behaviour you want to be engaging with?
  2. It should be used as a way of validating what the candidate has put on their CV.
  3. You can’t always rely on your hunch. This may be right most of the time but if it is wrong it can be damaging and have long term repercussions that may have been avoided if reference checks had been taken.


It is likely that most companies will continue to seek references, but they are in some circumstances becoming dilated and therefore not as useful. There are some who now use social media and online search engines to research potential employees – should this be included in the search for your talent or does it cross over into knowing the person as opposed to the skills they can offer?

For further information on references and further compliance services that Pertemps can offer, please contact

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