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References and checking

State on the application form when any references will be sought, and do not approach a current employer unless the candidate has given express permission. If references are sought, they will be most effective if you include a job description with the request, with structured, relevant questions that will enable you to gain accurate further information about the candidate's abilities. Do not ask for personal information or for conjecture about the applicant. Remember too that completing a reference takes time and proper consideration, so only seek such references if you believe they are necessary and appropriate. A simple form confirming dates of employment, capacity and particular skills may be satisfactory.

The holding of particular qualifications, training or licences may be important to the job, and it is reasonable to ask candidates for proof. If checks on such qualifications are to be made, it is good employment practice to make sure the applicant knows, and that copies of any relevant documents will be held on their personnel file.

The timing of reference and qualification checks is variable. It is often the case that references are taken up at shortlist or offer stage, and the candidate may be asked to bring documentary evidence of qualifications to the interview. Job offers are sometimes made 'subject to satisfactory references being received', but this is not advisable. The referee may simply fail to provide any kind of reference. There is no legal requirement to do so. Or a referee may wrongly indicate the applicant is unsuitable, in which case if the offer is withdrawn on those grounds, the organisation could face legal action by the applicant. The organisation needs a policy of what to do in circumstances such as the non-supply of a reference - an initial 'probationary' period might be an acceptable way of proceeding.

Detailed guidance on confidentiality when giving and receiving references may be found in the Employment Records section of the "Employment Practices Data Protection Code" available on the website of the Information Commissioner's Office website at The Code has guidance on what to do when a worker asks to see his or her own reference. This includes guidelines on what information it is reasonable to withhold if the reference enables a third party (eg the author of the reference) to be identified.

The offer

Once the successful candidate is identified, and any necessary references and checks completed, send out an offer letter. This is preferable to telephoning the candidate, as a letter enables the specifics of the job to be re-stated, with the terms and conditions, any pre-conditions (eg subject to exam success), or post-conditions (eg subject to a satisfactory probation period).

Remember that the employment contract is a legal one, and exists even before the candidate has commenced employment. The offer letter should set out the following points:

  • the job title and the offer of that job
  • any conditions (pre or post) that apply to the offer
  • the terms of the offer - salary, hours, benefits, pension arrangements, holiday entitlement, place of employment, etc
  • the date of starting, and any probationary period
  • what action the candidate needs to take, eg returning a signed acceptance of the offer, agreement to references, any date constraints on acceptance
  • if the letter is to form part of the contract of employment, it should say so. Alternatively it could form the main terms and conditions of employment - a written statement required by law to be issued to employees within two months of them starting work.

Preparing for the new employee

Once the candidate has accepted the job, the organisation must then prepare for the new employee's arrival and induction. Failure to attend to this can create a poor impression and undo much of the positive view the candidate has gained throughout the recruitment and selection process. A good induction programme reinforces positive first impressions and makes new employees feel welcome and ready to contribute fully.

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