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August 25, 2016

Getting Personal: How to Make Character Reference Checks Count

character reference checks

While character reference checks can be invaluable in painting a complete picture of an individual, there are some golden rules to getting the most out of the experience.

Character references are often an important part of the hiring process. This is particularly true when filling early career positions, where candidates may not have an extensive history of past employers to draw on. While these kinds of checks can be invaluable in painting a complete picture of an individual, however, there are a few golden rules to getting the most out of the experience. Here’s what you should consider.

The Nature of the Relationship

When it comes to personal or character references, context is often everything.

In most cases, you want to place more emphasis on professional types of relationships, like university professors, sports coaches or heads of volunteer organizations, and less on relatives or other close relationships.

Remember that people who are too close to your candidate may be biased, and while you could still talk to them, their references may not be as reliable.

The Length of the Relationship

Another big factor in assessing character reference checks is how long your prospective candidate has known their reference. If they worked together very briefly, they may not have had a chance to form a complete or accurate opinion of the candidate.

Always place more weight on longer relationships like university professors, rather than shorter ones.

The Position of the Referrer

When you are collecting references, generally speaking, the more clout the referrer has, the more impact it should have on your overall opinion of the candidate. If they’ve interned at a big company, and you talk to an executive, their opinion probably has more bearing than the manager of a fast food outlet that the candidate worked at during college, even though the timeframes are different.

The Genuineness of the Reference

You probably don’t want to consider it, but it’s not unheard of for candidates to provide fake references. If you only have a personal cell phone number, that’s a big red flag. Request the references office number, and contact them that way, so that you know you’re talking to the right person.

The Overall Impression

If your candidate gives you a list of five to ten references, and they all meet the ideals listed above, and they’re all amazing, then you’re probably on to a great candidate. If one or two are average, and the rest are brilliant, then maybe those one or two references were simply having a bad day.

Always take all of the references you get into account, and use them all to create a complete picture of your candidate, so you can make the best hiring decisions.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Finally, if you have a candidate who seems perfect in every other way, and they get an average reference, don’t cross them off the list automatically. Don’t be afraid to discuss the reference with them, and find out what their side of the story is.

Often, it’s gut feel that drives hiring decisions, and while character reference checks can help a lot, they are just one small part of a much bigger process. Treat them accordingly.


Prior to requesting your own check please confirm, prior to ordering, if our reports will be acceptable to the agency you are providing the report to.

Many countries will not provide official government responses. It is your responsibility to confirm if our reports are acceptable and AIS makes no warranties of their acceptance.

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