Reference Checking Tips for Easier Recruitment (2024)

When hiring new staff it is a common desire to get it done as quickly as possible. This often results in errors being made, and causing the process to take longer than it would if you slowed down to ensure everything was correct the first time!

We noticed that because of this there’s been an unintentional increase in fraudulent references, so we are going to share a few Reference Checking Tips with you, to make sure you don’t get caught out and to get your new staff working quickly.

The Interview

When interviewing, you can go down two paths:


You can confirm with the interviewee who is the appropriate person for you to call for a reference.

Don’t rely on details written on a CV or application form. Ask specifically who they reported to for each of their previous positions, how long they reported to them and if they are still in that position.

If you will be using an application form, remember to get the candidates’ permission before contacting their past employers. The applicant should sign for their permission in a form, with a statement like:

“I give my permission for Company XYZ Ltd to contact all the above companies and individuals for the purpose of confirming employment dates and/or providing a reference”.


Alternatively you could ask for all the relevant information about previous employers appearing on the application form or CV. You could ask the candidate about their past jobs, what they did, how they enjoyed it and if they had any problems or issues whilst they were there. You should be trying to dig up information that you can ask further questions about, during the interview and the follow-up reference check.

Once you have gone through the employment history, it will be the ideal time to produce a “permission to contact all references form” and ask them to sign it. You’d be surprised how many times applicants suddenly want to change their references!

The Reference:

  • Treat a reference you have requested more seriously than one an applicant brings in.
  • Make sure a reference received by letter is on company-headed paper and is ideally stamped with a company stamp.
  • Check that a reference received by email has been sent from a company email address. Not a free email service like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo.
  • Telephone numbers should be from landlines.


It is now very easy for a candidate to print out a document that looks genuine, so look closely and ask yourself the following questions.

  • Has the headed paper been printed by a printing firm or on an inkjet or laser printer? (Headed paper printed in bulk by a printing firm will be sharper and any patterns or logos can be printed right up to the edge of the paper. Inkjet or laser printers need to leave a border around the page).
  • Look at the typed writing, has it been produced by an inkjet or laser printer? Most offices have laser printers. A laser printer is usually sharper than an inkjet, which is likely to look slightly blurry.

But Don’t Call The Referee Yet!

Don’t take the information you have been given for granted. Validate everything you can by yourselves!

Remember that anybody can throw together a website easily so ensure you are using the official website. Search Google for the company. Is the website Google provides the same as the one you have been given? Are the address and telephone numbers the same?

  • Try using Google Maps to check that the company is at the address provided. (Street view is brilliant for this.)
  • Check Companies House. They operate a free web check service so you can easily check information regarding a registered company, including when it was formed.
  • If the reference relates to an entity in the care industry, you can use the CQC website.

  • Always make sure you check that the telephone number provided is a landline and not a mobile. Then check if it is valid.

  • Phone the reception of an organisation to confirm the name and title of the referee and also confirm the number you have been given to contact them is the correct one.

When You Call Them:

  • Ensure that you identify the person you are talking to.
  • Only conduct a reference check on a mobile number if it has been confirmed by, or given to you, by the company’s reception.
  • Confirm the dates of employment but be sure not to repeat the ones you have been given by the candidate. Get the referee to state them.
  • Be polite but ask questions and then follow up with probes for specifics.
  • Ask the referee if there is some other relevant information that they would like to share with you.
  • If you get a poor comment, you need to probe for evidence just like you probe the candidate for specifics.
  • Listen to the non-verbal’s: the hesitancy, the qualifiers (“well I would if….”), and the lack of or abundance of enthusiasm.

If you have received a written reference always ring them and confirm verbally that the reference has actually come from them and check with the company that the person who has given the reference is authorised to do so.


Remember not all referees are fair or balanced and some companies print their headed paper as they go, using inkjet printers. You will have to look at the whole picture. Treat anything that is unusual or suspicious and investigate it, but keep an open mind to the possibility that that dodgy-looking website is genuine. Not everyone is a web-design master!

If the position requires a DBS check (formerly CRB) you can use our DBS Checking service. To register with the Aaron’s Department online DBS service you can do so using the Sign-Up Form.


Reference Checking Tips Wrap-Up

If you have other questions about anything relating to the DBS, the answer to your question may be on our help and advice page.

We have written many guides over there which will help you get started with your DBS checks, as well as answer some of those tricky queries.

Can’t find what you’re after? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!