Candidate Reference Checks Do’s and Don’ts

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Human Resources is fraught with peril. But maybe not in the areas that come to mind when you read that phrase. Hiring, onboarding, and ongoing retention is a delicate balancing act between the array of ever-changing laws and regulations governing the employment process. One area you may not consider is what you can and can’t ask a candidate reference. It’s easy to let what is a simple, straightforward process, lead you toward a risky misstep by simply asking the wrong question. In this blog, we’ll help you understand the dos and don’ts of asking questions when checking a job candidate’s reference list.

Do These Things When Checking Candidate References

As a hiring manager or recruiter, you have the right to call on candidate references. What’s important to remember, however, is that not just any question will do, from a legal perspective. Some of the questions you can ask include:

  • How long did the candidate work with their reference?
  • What was the professional relationship between the candidate and the reference? For example, was the reference in a managerial position, and did the candidate report to them?
  • What was the job title of the candidate when they worked with that reference?
  • You can also ask about the candidate’s ability to work with a team or on a unit. This includes asking how they handled patients or engaged with other staff members or even the families that came through the facility.
  • Another safe (and good) question to ask is why the reference believes the candidate left the company. Would the reference be willing to hire that candidate again, assuming policy allowed it?
  • Asking about the candidate’s punctuality and dependability is a great question. It speaks to work ethic and responsibility and is something that you certainly want to know before hiring.
  • You can also ask the reference to describe a time when they saw the candidate using their own initiative. Would the reference say the candidate is proactive or reactive? Did they advance in their career during their tenure?

These are all safe questions to ask any candidate, whether they are administrative, clerical, or clinical. These questions and the rules for what you can ask also to apply in any field, and not just healthcare. But just as important as the questions you can ask, are those that you should never, under any circumstances, consider.

Avoid These Pitfalls When Checking Candidate References

The last thing you want is for a candidate to file a complaint with local, state, or even federal labor relations organizations. Just the thought strikes fear into the heart of any HR manager or recruiter. Here is a short list of the kinds of questions you should train your hiring teams to never ask a candidate let alone their references:

  • Never ask or even address race, ethnicity, or nation of origin.
  • Never ask about the candidate’s age.
  • Don’t ask about the candidate’s personal life, such as whether they go to church or have young children at home.
  • Avoid any personal questions, generally, such as what the candidate’s hobbies or interests are.
  • Never ask about the candidate’s health. Gender, health, illnesses, disabilities, diseases, mental health—these are all inappropriate questions.
  • Also never ask about their partner status, are they married, or whether the candidate has a boyfriend or girlfriend. These questions touch on sexual orientation, which is a no-no.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a good list of guidelines related to job application-related questions. The Americans with Disabilities Act also offers guidelines on how to handle job applicants. We recommend reviewing these rules before even beginning the interview process.

UHC Solutions works closely with our FQHC and community health clients to match them with healthcare candidates. Talk with us today about how you can professionalize your recruiting effort with our expert team.

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