How to Check Nonprofit Applicant References

Letters of recommendation can be helpful starting points in evaluating candidates, but most people would not include a negative recommendation in her application packet. Therefore, it’s necessary to check references by telephone or even in a personal meeting, if possible.

But sometimes even talking to references doesn’t provide much useful information. A job applicant wants to put her best face forward, so naturally she chooses people with favorable opinions as references. Also, employment laws are such that speaking to a former employer often yields little more than a confirmation that your applicant was employed between certain dates.

If you do have the opportunity to have a good conversation with the candidate’s former employer, pay close attention to what she’s not saying as well as attending to her description of the candidate’s abilities.

For example, if you need someone who pays careful attention to financial details, but the former employer only talks about the applicant’s friendliness and phone manner, you may not have found the right person for your position. Some typical questions ask what duties the applicant handled, what her strengths and weaknesses were, whether the candidate had a positive attitude toward work, and whether the reference would rehire the candidate.

If the applicant is working for another organization, don’t contact the current employer. You don’t want to breach her confidentiality.

You can conduct formal background checks of education credentials, criminal history, and other information as long as you get the applicant’s permission. If you feel that this type of research is necessary, hire a reputable company that specializes in this sort of work.

The lengths to which you go to collect information about an applicant depend on the magnitude of the position. If you’re hiring someone to lead a large and complex organization, you likely want to dig deeper into a candidate’s background than if you’re hiring a data entry clerk. But for any position, you want to know as much as possible about an individual’s previous job performance before hiring her.

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