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Reference checking: the secret to successful IT recruitment?

Updated: May 2

La prise de références : le secret d'un recrutement IT réussi ?

Recruiting in IT is quite an art. The technical skills as well as the interpersonal abilities of candidates are often challenging to assess, and recruiters have to rely on a few interviews, possibly supplemented by a technical test, to form a precise idea of a profile. Lengthy recruitment processes tend to scare away candidates, who, unfortunately, are already scarce.

So how can you ensure recruiting the right candidate while limiting the number of selection process stages? How to avoid recruitment mistakes, which, as we know, can be very costly? One of the keys to avoid making mistakes is to use a particularly effective and yet underutilized recruitment method in companies: reference checking.

In this article, we will explain why this method is crucial for successful IT recruitment, and how to use it to effectively assess a candidate's skills, thus ensuring the selection of the best profile.


Reference checking, a valuable tool in IT recruitment

1. What is reference checking?

In recruitment, reference checking is an evaluation method that involves contacting individuals who have worked with the candidates in the past to obtain information about their skills, work behavior, experience, and performance.

These contacted individuals are usually former employers or managers, but they can also be former colleagues or clients. The idea is to ask them for concrete feedback on their collaboration with the candidate.

This method provides additional information about the evaluated profiles, in addition to the CV, interviews, and possible technical tests. The information obtained through reference checking is often highly valuable for the recruiter

2. What are the advantages of reference checking?

Reference checking has multiple virtues! For example, it allows you to:

  1. Verify the accuracy of the information provided by the candidates (degrees, experience, skills, etc.) because, as we know, some tend to embellish their CVs a bit too much.

  2. Evaluate the soft skills and personal or interpersonal qualities of the candidates (work ethic, teamwork ability, empathy, etc.), providing a more reliable and comprehensive image of the candidate than a simple interview.

  3. Obtain an overview of the candidate's past performance to predict their future success.


Reference checking ultimately serves as an additional source of information, helping to make more informed recruitment decisions and find the best candidate for the position, whether it's for a freelance or permanent contract. It helps avoid casting errors by reducing the gap between the candidate's perceived qualities during the interview and the reality of their personality and skills.

3. The best practices for an effective reference checking

So, how do you conduct a good reference check? What are the steps to follow and the pitfalls to avoid in order to obtain reliable and constructive feedback on your candidates? Here are our top 10 tips:

3.1. Inform the candidate from the beginning of the recruitment process

Avoid unpleasant surprises or wasting time with candidates who would refuse the reference check (it happens, and it's often a bad sign). You can, for example, list the various steps of your recruitment process directly in your job or mission posting and mention the reference check. Candidates will appreciate your transparency and will be more inclined to apply.

3.2. Get the candidate's permission before contacting anyone

Reference checking is legally regulated. The labor code indeed states that 'any employer wishing to inquire about a candidate's references must first ask for their permission.' The easiest way is also to inform the candidate and ask for their contacts at the same time.

3.3. Avoid contacting the candidate's current employer.


That goes without saying, but if the candidate is job hunting while currently employed, they may not want their current employer to know about it. Imagine the discomfort or even conflicts you could create. However, if you follow our advice number 2, you should not find yourself in this situation.

3.4. Check the candidate's LinkedIn profile to read any potential recommendations listed on their profile.

This way, you can get a preliminary understanding of the candidate's relationships with their former managers and better guide the selection of people to contact to gather the information you need about the candidate.

3.5. Target 2 or 3 key contacts.


No need to contact everyone. With 2 or 3 high-quality feedbacks from individuals who have directly worked with your candidate, you will have more than enough to form an opinion about the profile you are dealing with.

3.6. Ensure that you contact relevant individuals.

Before initiating the contact, clarify, with the candidate and if necessary, through additional research, the relationship of the person you are contacting with the candidate. For the reference check to be reliable and effective, it is essential that the person you are contacting has directly collaborated with the candidate, and it is always more valuable to target a former manager or client rather than just a colleague. Also, ensure that the collaboration period was substantial

3.7. Choose the right communication channel.

Once you have the right contacts, all that's left is to take action. It is always better to have a brief conversation over the phone to efficiently gather the information and address any potential doubts you may have. However, for those who are less available, receiving feedback via email is still better than not getting any feedback at all.

3.8. Set the objectives for your reference check.

A good reference check requires some preparation. You must clearly identify the answers it should provide, which means the elements to confirm and the points of doubt you still have about the candidate. Focus on the elements that will truly assist you in making a decision

3.9. Ask concrete and specific questions.

Rather than asking, "What did you think of X?", ask questions like "What are the strengths of X?", "What were the areas for improvement when you collaborated with them?", or "On a scale of 0 to 10, how would you rate their ability to work in a team?"...

3.10. Prioritize open-ended questions.

Make sure not to bias the responses based on your perception of the candidate. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," and always encourage your contact to provide further explanations if needed.

In conclusion, reference checking is like a safety net for your recruitments. It is particularly valuable in the IT field, where evaluating candidates' skills can be complex yet highly strategic.

However, reference checking is a relatively lengthy and demanding process. If you don't have the time to dedicate to it, the best option is often to seek support and entrust your recruitments to expert partners like Zenith, to make your life easier and finally hire the best IT profiles!

P.S. You only have 7 seconds to make a good first impression!

Most of the time, we take things for granted and underestimate the value of good preparation, which can truly help us achieve our goals and overcome our professional challenges.

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