5 Reasons why you need a Reference Check Consent Form

reference check consent form

This article includes an editable sample Reference Check Consent Form template.

Don't want to read the entire article?  Fair enough.  We've highlighted the template in yellow so you can find and access it quickly.

So you've just found the perfect one or two final candidates. Happy dance!  The next step after all that work is to ask the candidate(s) to provide you with their references, right? 

Not so fast. That's like asking your candidate to bring in their own interview questions for you to ask so that only the best about them shines through. Ask the candidate to provide you with the type of references you want to contact based on your needs. Remember that not unlike the interviewing stage, there are 3 ultimate questions you need answered:

  1. Can they do the job?
  2. Will they do the job?
  3. Can you stand working with them? 

To get all three areas answered means getting strategic about the type of references you conduct depending on the type of position you're trying to fill. You may, for example, ask for the following types of references: 

  • Direct manager
  • Peer
  • Direct Report
  • Strategic Partner
  • Customer

But before you embark on reference checking, you must obtain consent from the applicant to contact references using a Reference Check Consent Form.

What's a Reference Check Consent Form?

A Reference Check Consent Form is used by HR, Hiring Managers – or anyone involved in conducting reference checks to: 

  • Communicate to your final candidate(s) the type of references you need them to provide
  • Obtain reference provider names, details, and contact information
  • Obtain written consent from candidates to conduct reference checks.

  Sample Reference Check Consent Form

Take a look at a sample Reference Check Consent Form template.  

In this case, the template is simplified to provide your managers with an email script that serves the same purpose as a signed form but is less cumbersome to obtain a signature. It can be previewed, downloaded and edited using Microsoft Word.

5 Good Reasons to use a Reference Check Consent Form

1.   Reduce legal risks

It happens. More often than you may think. Not everyone is gracious when they don't get the job - particularly when they're not treated with respect and dignity. Some individuals may hunt down reasons to substantiate their "it's them not me" feelings. Hunting may include going after the employer for any misstep that may have occurred during the recruiting and hiring dance, including the reference checking process.

Creating a thoroughly crafted agreement between you and the candidate that confirms your reference checking steps will significantly reduce your legal risks.    

2.  Reference providers are more forthcoming

In our version of the sample Reference Check Consent template, the candidate agrees to allow the employer to forward a copy of the candidate's written consent to reference providers.  With this in hand, your reference providers will be significantly more open to a frank discussion.  

3.  Professionalism

Much is written these days about the shunning and extinction of implementing and enforcing formal policies and procedures.  The truth is that candidates want to work for a well-run company - particularly if they're over 30! Even if you're a small business, candidates will appreciate that you have processes in place that reduce HR chaos and they're more likely to take your offer of employment and CYA clauses more seriously.  

There's also the benefit of branding yourself as a well-run company to the reference providers you speak with. You never know.  One of them just may be a future applicant to your company. 

4.  Back Door References

The sample Reference Check Consent template we refer to is written to accommodate your ability to check references that are not necessarily provided by the candidate.  This may not be deemed compliant in some jurisdictions. If that's the case, remove the references to "reference providers, including the Reference Providers listed below" in the document and replace it with "Reference Providers listed below". This modifies the agreement so that your candidate only consents to your contacting the references they provide.  

If compliance isn't an issue, it can be worthwhile to connect with reference providers who have not been cherry picked by the candidate and may give you additional unvetted insight into them. You are within your rights to look for references on candidates through any method you want to, provided the candidate has confirmed that you are permitted to conduct reference checks. If a candidate doesn’t want you checking with anyone else, it may be (but certainly isn't always) a red flag. 

Note: Back door references are more appropriate for candidates who are currently not employed. 

Things to avoid during back door references: 

This topic can easily be its own article, but let's cover off some of the basics:

  • Don't check references of the candidate's current employer.  The candidate usually does not want their current employer to know they are searching for work elsewhere
  • Don't check references if there's a chance that word will get back to the candidate's current employer.
  • Don't rush to judgment or decision. It's natural to advance candidates who have lots of entries in the positive column.  But be particularly careful about how much weight you put on negative feedback from back door references.  
    • You can never be sure of the circumstances.  Was the reference provider less than competent and resentful of the candidate's skills?  Do they have a vendetta against them? Are they a micro manager?  Does the reference provider thrive in a culture in which the candidate only feels stifled? Consider that A-players often don't do well with certain types of managers, teams, and cultures.
    •  Never underestimate a candidate's ability to change.  Negative feedback about the candidate's performance 5 or 10 years ago may now be a moot point.

      Negative intel received from back door sources should become a piece of the decision puzzle and not a variable with additional weight.  

5.  Clarity & Consistency

A Reference Check Consent Form provides clarity for your candidate.  It lets them know exactly what you need, how to get it to you and by when, and what to expect.  Candidates appreciate clear direction and information so they don't have to guess or reach out to you to ask what they may fear is a silly question. 

The Reference Check Consent Form also provides a clearly defined step-by-step process for your managers before they begin checking references.  Create it once, and you can be assured that everyone who conducts references is on the same page.  

Last Word

If you have a documented and consistent process for your Hiring Managers or HR, getting consent from candidates to check references will be easy to get over the finish line.  

Do it!  

Ariane Laird Vancouver

Ariane Laird is CEO & Founder of ConnectsUs HR, a company that provides tools & resources to quickly set up a Human Resources department.  
You can contact her directly from the Inquiry Type drop down menu.