Reference Checks and Automation: Proper usage

reference checks

reference checks
reference checks

Referencing checking – one of the most critical parts of the hiring process. A key way for an employer to make sure they aren’t making a mistake in their hiring decision. SkillSurvey released a study showing 86% of reference checks are made before a company extends an offer of employment. However, it’s a time-consuming process. With increasing worries about candidates being who they say they are, companies are turning to deeper levels of screening. HR Dive published an article exploring the need for more extensive (and thus more costly and time-consuming) checks.

Enter the growing amount of companies that are offering an automated reference checking service. As HR Dive covered, background reference checking is becoming more crucial when employers cannot necessarily take people’s CVs at face value. With the complexity and time-intensive nature of the process, a plethora of companies offering an automated reference service have sprung up to – seemingly – make the jobs of hiring managers everywhere easier.

The attraction of automated checks

The Society for Human Resource Management published a survey showing that 8/10 HR professionals conduct candidate references regularly. Furthermore, the study showed that more advanced or technical positions are more likely to be reference checked. On the other hand, for jobs such as unskilled labour or part-time work, the reference check is far less of a priority, with information usually being limited to something like employment dates. That’s if the former employer even bothers to return it. This can further complicate the process, and make those automated reference checks look more and more attractive.

The time and hassle benefits of a service that could automate this process, therefore seem clear. However, employers need to be careful to use this new technology correctly. To begin with, companies must follow a proper validation process. It doesn’t matter whether the request is being sent out by post, by email, by telephone or online. When they check a reference, they must verify the company’s existence and contact their HR department. These best practices prevent nepotism and exploitation of the reference process. Many automated reference checking companies simply allow a candidate to put in an email. There could be nothing stopping me from putting in my best friend at work’s email address. He’ll give me a glowing reference, even if I, in reality, I was constantly walking the line of getting fired.

At Credence, we embrace these advances in technology, that can make all our work more efficient. Nonetheless, we must be careful to avoid taking the easy way out and continue applying industry best practices so that results are valid and trustworthy.

Compliance risks

Furthermore, employers must be careful that their reference checks comply with all local laws – the GDPR in the EU and a variety of different state and federal laws in the US. Donna Ballman, a plaintiff’s attorney and employment law author, spoke about the particular complexities facing US screening companies:

“Employers need to pay particular attention to Fair Credit Reporting Act mandates,” she added. “This federal law covers anything the employer is getting from a consumer reporting agency that covers personal and credit characteristics, character, general reputation, or lifestyle (but not the HR department calling references, running your name on Google, checking out your Facebook page, or reading your blog). If they are going to run a background check, they have to give you a document solely for the purpose of telling you they intend to conduct a background check, and they need your permission in writing.”

Donna Ballman for HR Dive

Similar laws apply to companies screening in the EU under the GDPR. She continues:

“If a former employer gets a list of questions, there is zero control over who actually fills out the form. If the former employer allows someone with improper training to answer a list of questions, that person could disclose a disability, pregnancy, race, national origin or other protected status. And then what does the potential employer do with that information?” she explained. ” As an example, if they find out the applicant has a disability and then don’t hire that person, they have opened up a potential lawsuit for discrimination.”

Donna Ballman for HR Dive


There’s going to be benefits and disadvantages any time we choose to swap from human-controlled methods to technological solutions. We should embrace new technology for its ability to improve efficiency. Something beneficial for HR workers and background screening companies. However, everyone must follow proper processes, and companies cannot forget their responsibility to comply with the law.