How Important is Reference Checking

Posted by on 30 January 2018

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We at Ahead Associates continue to be surprised when we hear of appointments where no reference, or minimal reference checking has been done. Sometimes the person appointed will be the right person but sometimes it will be the wrong person. Then the Board of Trustees (or the Principal depending on the level of job) is faced with the disappointment and the prospect of trying to bring about an improvement.

Even where reference checking is carried out it may be inadequate, remember an applicant is going to cite referees he/she is sure will give them a positive reference. 

What can be done to improve the chances of making the right appointment decision?


  • Make sure that your application form has a section that the applicant signs allowing you to contact any of their previous employers or people they have worked with. Under the Privacy Act the applicant must give you permission to contact anyone about them.
  • Reference check where possible before the interview so that you know what areas may need to be more fully explored.
  • Ask an "neutral" person or organisation to reference check for you
  • Use a template of questions designed for the specific job and ask each referee the same questions. This way you get a consistent picture of the applicant.


  • Contact another Principal, member of staff or friend for a reference of the "gen" on an applicant unless you have their permission. You are contravening the HR Act and the Privacy Act if you do.
  • Ignore warning bells and make an appointment because you desperately need someone.