Do Online Reference Checks Work For Hiring?

Reference checks, the process of asking past employers and colleagues about a job applicant’s qualifications and past performance, have long been a part of human resource management. However, despite the fact that the limitations of using reference checks in the hiring process have been well-recognized for many years, they continue to be a popular part of many organizations’ selection procedures. Recently, there has been increased interest in how reference checks might be made more useful.

To this end, researchers (Hedricks et al., 2013) tested a web-based reference checking survey. It allowed multiple references to all provide structured ratings about a particular applicant through a computer-based survey (as opposed the usual and dubiously valuable phone reference check). The researchers tested this online survey system in multiple organizations, using some basic questions about capabilities, such as professionalism and interpersonal skills. Each survey also had questions tailored to specific competencies and requirements of each organization. Overall, the authors found that the survey system was both efficient and effective. Information was gathered from references quickly, and the ratings that references provided were effective for predicting employees’ job performance and involuntary turnover. In addition, the standardization that the survey brings may help to improve the overall validity of reference checks, thereby improving the contribution that reference checks can make to the hiring process.

This web-based survey shows promise as a flexible, fair tool that could help many organizations streamline reference checks.