The offer of employment should not be made, even informally, until references have been obtained. Once a decision is reached on the chosen candidate, it is normal to make approaches to past employers to check the accuracy of information provided by the applicant and to ensure that there is no ‘skeleton’ lurking in the applicant’s past that has not been revealed. References are one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of human resources in practice. Most organizations make attempts to obtain them but the actual results are woefully inadequate. Either the requested reference never arrives, or it provides a set of platitudes that can be unconvincing or it is incomplete, leaving out some key information that may affect the decision to offer employment. In certain circumstances effective references are vital, such as in jobs involving a high degree of security or where the work is with vulnerable people.
For jobs where the security or personal risks are small, a simplified reference system is to obtain at interview the names and telephone numbers of the managers that the applicant worked for in previous employment (interestingly, by telling the applicant that these people will be approached for a reference sometimes draws the applicant to tell more details about why they left their employment). The reliability of certain crucial pieces of information can be verified by one short phone call and it is not wise to make an offer until such information is received. Despite recommendations about making offers of employment ‘subject to satisfactory references’ it is a very unpleasant process to actually withdraw an offer when a poor reference is received. The applicant may have already handed in their notice to their existing employer and the reference received may just be vindictive or out of date. It is far better to ensure the reference is obtained before the offer is actually made.