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Best Practice Tips For Conducting Reference Checks

 Written by Steve Evans


You think you've found the right candidate for your Accounting Firm. Qualifications, experience, skillset, and personality all seem like a good fit. But there’s one more step in your hiring process: checking references.

Checking references can be time-consuming but it is a vital part of the hiring process. It verifies the information provided by the candidate on their CV, during the interview, and as part of the testing and assessment process. It also allows for any red flags & concerns to be debunked or confirmed.


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Follow these steps to get it right, the first time:

1)   Don’t delegate, do your own reference check. If the candidate will be reporting directly to you, then you should be the person who checks the references.

2)   Obtain consent to contact referees and ask employment-related questions.

3)   Ensure you speak with three individuals who have actually supervised or managed the candidate. If a candidate’s current employer doesn’t know they’re seeking work elsewhere, then go to their previous employer.

4)   Plan your questions carefully - you need to think back to the core skills (the job description) as well as the core competencies and key success measures (the performance profile) that you had created for the job.

5)   Always address any red flags that have arisen throughout the selection process – if your candidate scored poorly in an specific area relating to his or her skills testing - follow up with their referee and ask how they performed in this area historically. The questions you ask should prompt the candidate’s former supervisor to talk about the candidate’s actual past experiences and behaviour.

6)   Take detailed notes - you never know when you might need to refer back to some of the comments further down the track (e.g., during performance reviews).

7)   Don’t put words in their mouth - try to avoid manipulating the conversation to go in the candidate's favour.

8)   Seek out areas for professional development – even the greatest employees can improve in a one or two areas and it’s good to know what these are before you make an offer to a candidate. If a referee is gushing with praise and can’t fault your candidate in any way at all, that should ring alarm bells.

9)   End the conversation with the question “So would you ever re-employ [insert name here]?” and listen for the hidden message that can speak volumes. There is a huge difference between “Um … yeah … I guess so”, “Yes … yes I would”, and “I’d have her back in a heart beat”.


Have you ever made recruitment decisions you lived to regret?  Are you given recruitment responsibilities on top of your day job and struggle to find time to do it all?  Get our compact Accountant & Bookkeeper Recruitment Guide for free.   

An easy reference document covering the whole process from scoping the Job Description for upcoming vacancies, right through to making better job offers than your competitors and sealing the deal, and every step in between.  Written by Accounting firm Partners, HR/People Management professionals within the accounting and bookkeeping sector and drawing on established and emerging best practice in selection techniques in Australasia, the UK and US, you can have access to a wealth of practical recruitment and selection knowledge and links to external expertise and reusable templates whenever you need it.


Once you’ve finished conducting your reference checks, it’s also a good idea to confirm the candidate’s professional memberships and verify any qualifications they may have.




About the Authors

Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.  

Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.

Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers.

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