There are, of course, many factors that are taken into consideration prior to an employer making the critical decision as to which candidate would be the best choice for a position with his or her company.

Given the fact that labor is, almost universally, acknowledged to be the single greatest cost of doing business, it should come as no surprise that wise employers take every reasonable precaution to ensure that they select the best candidate for the job.

In addition to professional experience, interpersonal skills and other factors taken into consideration in the hiring process, employment reference checks very often play a deciding role in helping an employer reach a hiring decision.

In recent months, adding to the importance of checking a candidate’s references has been the declining national unemployment rate and a shrinking ‘pool’ of quality candidates from which to select new employees.

Nationally, unemployment has dropped to 5 percent, and that inevitably means that ensuring that a candidate is of the highest possible caliber is of even greater importance; in addition, in the age of identity fraud, reference checks serve as yet another tool for employers to ensure that a candidate is, in fact, whom he or she says they are.

Of course, working with a leader in the employment screening industry such as PeopleFacts, can assist employers in ensuring that the entire hiring process—including reference checks—is conducted professionally, promptly, and fully compliant with all employment laws.

There is an old adage that “the past is portent”, which basically means that there is much about the future that can be learned by studying the past. Most human resources professionals agree that adage holds true when it comes time to hiring as well; that’s one reason why employment references can be such a vital tool when looking to select which candidate a company should hire.

Experts agree that there are several key points that all HR professionals—and hiring managers—should keep in mind when seeking out and using employment references.

Among the most important employment reference tips commonly offered are:

Inform the candidate you will be checking his or her references: Most experts agree that it’s important to inform the job candidate—early in the hiring process—that if he or she is considered for the position, their references will be checked. As long as the employer adheres to all anti-discrimination laws and operates within the boundaries of all employment regulations, checking references prior to hiring an individual is considered to be perfectly legal.
If possible, involve the Hiring Manager in the reference check process: While it may not always be possible to do so, many experts believe that it is highly advisable to involve the Hiring Manager directly in the reference check process; quite often, given how familiar he or she is with the skills and experience required for the position, the Hiring Manager will have insightful, corollary questions to ask about the candidate’s suitability for the opening that might not be asked by an HR representative.
Utilize information garnered from the interview process when checking references: One of the reasons for conducting an employment reference check is to ensure that the candidate is credible and that his or her professional background—and personality—is well-suited to the position. Asking a prior employer some of the same questions that were asked of the candidate during the job interview can assist a new employer with achieving a clearer understanding of the true nature of the candidate.
Be willing to listen, not just hear: For a multitude of reasons, often prior employers may feel as though they have to couch their responses regarding their former employee. However, the nuances in their responses may also provide some additional insight into the candidate’s experience beyond the actual dates of tenure and duties of position.

Ultimately, employment reference checks should likely be viewed as an important method to help employers verify that the candidate they are selecting to fill a position is, indeed, the best man or woman for the job.

For while references from past employers can’t guarantee that the candidate will fully live up to his or her potential, they can help to increase the odds of success—a welcome addition in a tightening employment market awash in uncertainty.