Reference Checks: 2000 vs. 2014

I’ve devoted time this week organizing and scanning old HR files that accumulated over the years. I found an article from SHRM’s HR Magazine dated June 2000. The pages had been torn from the magazine and saved in a file by one of my HR predecessors. They were lost in time or, more accurately, within a filing cabinet, for many years only to be found today.

Reference Checks: 2000 vs. 2014

The Whole Truth, HR to Who, Kyle JonesThe article was written by Carolyn Hirschman and the bio lists her as a business writer based in Rockville, Maryland. I read the article tonight and quickly realized something. Things hadn’t changed that much in the years since the article was published. SHRM has changed since then. The HR industry, as a profession, has changed quite a bit but reference checks have not.

What is a Reference Check?

According to information posted by The Bridgespan Group:

Taking insightful references on prospective employees is essential, but how do you get started? You can either have a third party take references for your candidate or you can conduct the references internally. Either way, it is helpful to do a number of references–ideally five to six for senior-level candidates–to gather both:

  • Hard data– confirmation of the candidate’s track record, skills, and competencies, including information about the role the candidate played within the organization, specific responsibilities, and performance; and

  • Qualitative data – tangible examples that allow you to better understand the candidate’s management and communication style, track record, and both strengths and areas for improvement, including more qualitative questions about the individual’s style, interpersonal interactions, and approach to work.

Wikipedia states the following regarding reference and/or background checks:

These checks are often used by employers as a means of objectively evaluating a job candidate’s qualifications, character, fitness, and to identify potential hiring risks for safety and security reasons. Background checks are also used to thoroughly investigate potential government employees in order to be given a security clearance. However, these checks may sometimes be used for illegal purposes, such as unlawful discrimination (or employment discrimination),identity theft, and violation of privacy.

Key Points

  1. Open-ended questions are better than yes-or-no ones.

  2. Non-Talkative types may feel more at ease answering questions on a rating scale.

  3. Start with non-threatening questions.

Who checks the reference?


The article suggested that the person who interview not be the same person who conducts the background check. The reason? Meeting the candidate – even if the type of contact is only via telephone – creates the potential to cloud the judgement of the interviewer. This requires that another person be the one to check references.

For me, I agree and I also disagree.


I can rationalize the reason why someone conducting background screens may not be best suited for the role.

Additional Information

References on HR to WHOTo read the entire article from the Bridgespan Group, click here.

To read the entire Wikipedia entry, click here.




About Post Author:



Kyle Jones, HR to WHO, About HR to Who

I am the Human Resources Manager at MegaGate Broadband, Inc. serving in various capacities within the company since 1996. I am currently the Co-Social Media Director of Mississippi SHRM and the 2014-2015 Social Media Director for South Mississippi SHRM. I am a longtime fan of Doctor Who and joined the HR Blogging community with the HR to Who blog in late 2012.


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