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Division of Human Resources

Checking References

Before making a hiring decision, you are required to conduct a thorough reference check on your top candidate for the job.

Benefits of Reference Checks 

Reference checks can supply more information about the applicant’s qualifications than any other source, and this information may be more objective than the applicant’s responses. As a result, reference checking is another important strategy in mitigating bias. Instead of making hiring decisions based on assumptions, reference checks will allow a hiring manager to objectively assess a candidate's qualifications and skill set.

When to Conduct Reference Checks 

Some hiring managers check references before the interview to establish which candidates will be interviewed. Others may contact references of only those candidates identified as a finalist.

No matter the order, be sure not to contact a candidate's current employer until that candidate is determined to be the candidate of choice.

Best practice: Conduct reference checks after the interview and only on the applicant(s) to whom you are considering making an offer. 


  • Avoid questions that screen out minorities, women and persons with disabilities, or will bias the reference in terms of age, gender or religion.
  • Avoid personal questions. If you have doubts as to whether you should ask a question, don’t.
  • Questions you should avoid include:
    • Does the applicant have any disabilities or health problems?
    • Is the applicant married or have children?
    • Has the applicant made child care arrangements?
  • Ask only job-related questions and document all answers. Avoid questions that can be answered "yes" or "no." 
  • Confirm factual, objective information candidates provide during the application and interview process.
  • Develop consistency in questions when contacting references for multiple candidates.

Pro tip: The most important question to be answered is whether the previous employer would rehire the applicant you are considering.

Supervisors should also be prepared with a written list of questions to ask. 

When contacting an applicant’s reference, identify yourself immediately and tell the reference about the position for which the applicant is being considered. 

Don’t just rely on letters of reference or personal references provided by the job applicant. 

You should state during the interview with a job applicant that references will be checked.

A verbal reference check takes less time than a written reference check and usually more information is gained. Forms rarely uncover negative information. Employers hesitate to put into writing what they may say in a conversation. 

Remember that the same State and Federal laws that govern the interview apply to the reference checking process.

When feasible, references should always be conducted by the hiring manager. They are most familiar with the information received from the applicant and the responsibilities of the job.

  • To gain as much information as possible, let the person speak without interrupting.
  • If the reference pauses in the conversation, it usually means he/she has other information and is hesitant to share this information.
  • Get them to talk about everything that would be helpful, but only ask for information that will be used in your hiring decision. 

Resources in PeopleAdmin

A request for a list of references and recommendation letters may be initiated through the PeopleAdmin system by selecting the option to have recommendation letter providers to be contacted via email. 

Applicants may also be required to attach professional references as an applicant document when applying. 

Contact the Office of Talent Acquisition at 803-777-3821 to gain more information on the reference features available in PeopleAdmin.

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