Discussions online: References for temporary staff

Q My company has to recruit 100-plus temporary call centre and data entry staff twice a year to cover busy, seasonal periods of between two and six weeks. We ask all applicants to provide the name, address and occupation of two referees that we can write to. We send out standard reference questions to these referees.

My main worries about our current system are: we don’t specify how far back references should go or whether it should be the last two employers we often have to chase outstanding references for staff who have already started working here and some references come back with limited information, such as dates of employment only.

How rigorous should we be with our checks, considering the positions are short term?

Does anyone have any tips on how to improve the process?

A Considering the average turnaround time for references is more than two weeks, the process you use doesn’t work for short-term bookings. Here are my suggestions:

  • Ask new starters to bring references with them.

  • Specify that you want references from the last two employers.

  • Make a reference a condition of employment. If, for example, you suggest that those without references can only work a specified number of hours a week until you have cleared references, I am sure staff would chase their former employers.

  • Ask for referees’ e-mail address as well as telephone numbers, and ask starters to warn their referees that they will be contacted for a reference.

  • Adapt your standard reference letter to include tick boxes so it is easier to complete. If it looks time-consuming it will be put straight to the bottom of the pile.

How rigorous your checks are depends on the level of responsibility and the skills required for the role. You could enclose the job description and ask the referee to comment on the employee’s ability to perform at that level.

However, the implications of a negative reference – and the threat of a discrimination claim – means that some employers keep detail to a minimum. There isn’t much you can do to overcome this. In some cases it may be permissible to telephone the referee, who may be able to give you some further information. But this could form part of a case if someone decided to go to tribunal claiming discrimination.

A I always request initial references via e‑mail. It’s much faster than post and makes it quick and easy to follow up. Plus, an e-mail is so easy to write and get ‘off their desk’. I ask around six or seven questions, which are direct and specific, and won’t take long to respond to. I include a request for any further comment at the end. I find I tend to get additional comments from almost all referees because it’s been quick and fairly painless to that point, I’ve asked all the major questions, and the referee seems to have warmed up a bit.

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