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Wilfrid Laurier University Lazaridis School of Business & Economics
October 26, 2016
Canadian Excellence



Business: Organizational Behaviour/Human Resource Management (OB/HRM) Area

Research Tidbit: Despite the Common Misconception, Reference Checking Is Useful! It Just Depends on How You Do It

New Research from Dr. Chet Robie (OB/HRM)

Mar 22/13

Many human resource professionals think that reference checking as typically practiced is an obligatory but fairly useless final step in the selection process. Reference providers are hard to contact and the quality of reference information varies from reference to reference.

New research from Dr. Cynthia A. Hedricks (SkillSurvey, Inc.), Dr. Chet Robie (Wilfrid Laurier University), and Dr. Fred Oswald (Rice University) debunks this popular notion of reference checking.

The method of reference checking used in the research leverages the Internet.  Job candidates are asked to provide the contact information of work- or school-related reference providers who are then sent a link to a structured, reference-checking assessment that is tailored to a given job.  The reference providers then rate the job candidate on approximately 25 job-related competency behaviors; open-ended comments as to the candidate’s work-related strengths and areas for development are also solicited. The researchers found that this structured assessment meets professional levels of reliability and validity (whereas typical reference checks show neither). They also found that the ratings did not differ by demographic sub-group of the candidate, thus meeting the EEOC’s criteria for compliance with the 4/5ths rule.  Feedback gathered from a candidate’s references is predictive of a number of critical work-related outcomes (manager ratings; involuntary turnover; new hire satisfaction with job).  Finally, the web-based reference checking is much more efficient than typical reference checking, cutting the average time to conduct reference checks from 3-7 business days to two business days.

Use of a structured, web-based reference-checking process will likely increase as businesses continue to embrace the use of technology in candidate selection. Businesses will benefit by reduced selection costs, reduced legal risk, and better hires. Candidates will benefit by being more accurately assessed on their potential contributions to organizations.

For more information about this research, please contact Dr. Chet Robie at

The full article is available at:

Hedricks, C. A., Robie, C., & Oswald, F. L. (2013). Web-based multisource reference checking: An investigation of psychometric integrity and applied benefits. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 21(1), 99-110.

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