Obtaining referee reports

The selection committee should determine how and when reference checks will be conducted. This decision should be based on the specific selection process ensuring that the committee has enough relevant and accurate information to support the selection decision.

The Chair of the selection committee is responsible for seeking referee reports and is encouraged to use the Referee Report Form (HR89) as a guide. This form is designed to focus on key areas and ensure consistent and relevant information is addressed with referees.

Referees are to be asked to take account of the selection criteria in framing their responses. They can only be asked to comment on those areas where they have knowledge of an applicant.

The Rating Scale for Individual Applicants form may also be used when seeking referee reports. This will allow for a more consistent approach in assessing candidates against the selection criteria.

It is also important to consider whether to obtain the report prior to or after interviews. The implications of each approach is outlined below.

Reports prior to interview

Seeking reports prior to interview ensures that at the time of interview the selection committee has a good range of information to assist in making an informed judgement on the merits of all short listed applicants. Further correspondence or discussion with referees can occur to follow up particular points that need clarification from the application or interview.

While this approach of waiting until after all referee reports are received may delay interviews, it does mean that the committee can move quickly to form its recommendation at the conclusion of interviews. Conversely, it may also mean that a number of referees have gone to considerable trouble for applicants who at interview demonstrate that they are clearly not suitable for the position.

Reports following interviews

In many cases it may be preferable to conduct reference checks after the interviews. The advantages of seeking referee reports after an interview are:

  • it should speed up the process of organising and conducting interviews and the formation of judgements as to who are the highly ranked applicants
  • it should reduce the number of referee reports to be sought, as comments only need to be obtained on those applicants that are in genuine contention following interviews
  • additional questions of referees can be better focused on areas the Committee considers need to be explored.

Written versus oral referee reports

The selection committee should decide whether a written or oral report will provide the better quality and range of information on the skills and attributes of applicants.

If seeking a written report, referees should ideally be given two weeks in which to provide a reference to avoid rushed or superficial comment. Referees should be advised that if they are heavily committed and are having difficulty in finding the time to write the reference, they might find it more convenient to provide an oral report. If this is the case, they are asked to contact the relevant person so that a mutually agreed time can be found for either the Chair, or another member of the selection committee, to call the referee for an oral report.

Oral referee reports are encouraged. They can speed up the process considerably, reduce the workload for referees, and provide candid comments that might not be so forthcoming in a written report.

Comments obtained orally should be recorded in writing and made available to all members of the selection committee. It is a good idea to clarify the main points from the conversation with the referee to ensure they have been interpreted correctly, and any information on which decisions are being based, are correct.

Other options include the use of teleconferencing so that all selection committee members can talk to a referee or, if possible, arranging a face-to-face meeting with a referee.

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