Reference Check through Email?

A question I get asked more often than you would think is “is it possible to do this reference check through email? I’m very busy”. The short answer I always give is no. Conducting a thorough reference check as part of the pre-employment screening process is incredibly hard when done through email. Sending a referee a page full of questions may seem like an easy thing to do but answers are often hard to decipher. When speaking to someone you can gain insight by the way they say things, as opposed to just what they say in an email. The manner in which things are said can be very enlightening when conducting a reference check and can open the door for follow up questions and insight. Furthermore it is very hard to ask these follow up questions or for clarification if the information you are receiving comes back to you on a computer screen.

This can lead to a tedious back and forth of emails that will likely take the referee longer to complete than just having a conversation with the person conducting the reference check. I get it. People are busy, especially if they have management responsibilities. Always try to encourage your referee in regards to time taken and try to accommodate them by speaking to them during a break or after hours if need be. Personally I would rather conduct a reference check with another referee (perhaps someone that isn’t the candidate’s direct manager) than conduct a reference check with a direct manager over email. I have done it before when there was no other way and frankly it yielded incomplete, inaccurate and hard to decipher information. The increasingly common practice of conducting reference checks through email or other non verbal means, in my opinion should be avoided at all costs.