Conducting Reference Checks/Verifying Credentials

The hiring manager or a member of the search committee must check professional references and verify credentials (degrees, licenses, certifications, etc.) prior to seeking approval to appoint a selected applicant. Degrees can be verified at website:

IMPORTANT: Contact candidates before contacting professional references: Before contacting any references, contact the candidates to let them know (1) where you are in the screening process and (2) that you are about to begin contacting their references.  Some candidates may not yet have informed their employers that they have applied for another position.  Be responsive if a candidate objects to having their references contacted, and try to address any concerns they may have.

Whose references to check, and when:

Finalists – Structured reference checks are usually conducted for any candidates still under consideration after the site visits/final interviews, at the same time credentials (degrees, licenses, certifications, etc.) are verified.  This is true even if preliminary structured reference checking was performed earlier in the process.  At a minimum, final references for the proposed appointee should be checked before an offer is made.

Semi-finalists – Preliminary structured reference checks are sometimes conducted earlier in the screening process (prior to site interview).  When needed, these reference checks usually occur after phone or skype interviews, because additional information is required to determine which candidates to advance to site interview. Candidates are more likely to be concerned about you contacting their current employers this early in the process; if this occurs, one option is to delay checking current employer references for all candidates until after the site interviews.

Whom to contact for reference checks: When conducting a reference check, officials are encouraged to talk with a former supervisor as well as former colleagues, peers, staff and other professional associates. A former supervisor can speak specifically to an applicant’s quality and quantity of work, reliability, potential problem areas, and specific job behaviors. It is recommended that hiring officials contact at least three past employers to find consistent trends in the applicant’s past performance. Calling several employers will also help balance the information received and guard against making a decision based on opinions or information that may not be factual. It is important that the solicited information relates directly to the applicant’s ability to carry out the responsibilities of the job.

Managing the Conversation with a Professional Reference

  1. Identify yourself and the applicant and ask the reference if it’s a good time to talk.
  2. Briefly describe the position.
  3. Assure the reference that the information they provide will be held as confidential as the law allows.
  4. Confirm the dates of employment and the reference's relationship with the applicant.
  5. Verify the job titles, both formal and informal.
  6. Inquire about job-related skills, experience and performance. Ask open- ended questions.
  7. Discuss attendance records, including unexcused absenteeism and tardiness. Specific information, such as the average number of days absent (excused or unexcused) or tardy per month, may be the most helpful.
  8. Inquire about reason for termination. Although a human resources office can provide an official reason, a supervisor generally can provide a more thorough explanation.
  9. Ask about the possibility of rehire. A former employer’s reluctance to rehire should be a cause for concern. However, some firms have general policies prohibiting rehires. If this is the case, it should be noted.
  10. Seek information about disciplinary actions. It is important to know if the applicant was ever reprimanded or disciplined, and the reasons for this action.

Sample Questions

What is/was your relationship to (applicant)?

From what month and year until what month and year did you work with (applicant)?

Can you verify the position(s) he or she held?

Did you have the opportunity to observe (applicant) in his/her position as ***?

How would you describe his/her performance in this position?

If hired to work at OSU, (applicant) will be expected to work well in a diverse environment. Can you tell me, based on your past personal observations, how s/he would meet this expectation?

Describe (applicant) ability to take on and learn new tasks.

In what areas does (applicant) need additional development/improvement?

Describe (applicant) organizational/time management skills.

How much supervision did (applicant) require?

How would you compare the performance of (applicant) with that of others who have held the same job?

Describe (applicant) communication skills with customers/co-workers/supervisors.

What type of business correspondence did (applicant) compose?  Describe the quality of his/her writing including grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Please describe (applicant) work ethic in the context of tardiness, absenteeism, attitude, abuse of sick or vacation time, dependability, trustworthiness, or completion of assigned tasks.

Why did (applicant) leave your organization?

Would you hesitate to re-employ or work with (applicant) if you had the opportunity?

Is there any additional information that you feel we should have in considering (applicant) for employment?

The information received from a reference is a critical part of the evaluation of each applicant. If the reference raises any doubts, additional references and follow-up interviews with the applicant should be scheduled.  Information collected by a reference should be kept as confidential as the law will allow. The information received from a reference must be filed with the recruitment file, separate from employee's files.

Conducting Criminal History Checks

Positions that are designated as critical or security-sensitive require the completion of a criminal history  check. This requirement must be included in the “Minimum/Required Qualifications” of the position description at the time a recruitment action is submitted through the Online Recruiting System. Department/Unit administrators are required to identify those positions in which the incumbent is required to perform critical or security-sensitive work. You will find criminal history check forms and policy documents as well as a security-sensitive access crosswalk to assist you in making that determination.  If a position requires a criminal history check,  only a candidate who has successfully completed the check may fill the position. This release may be found at or it is accessible from the Oregon State Central Administrative Resources (OSCAR) home page. From the OSCAR home page, click on Downloadable Forms from the left menu. Please complete the top section of the first page with the posting information (hiring department, supervisor’s name, index number, etc.) before providing it to the final applicant(s). The release should be returned directly to the Office of Human Resources as instructed at the bottom of page one. The Office of Human Resources will report results to the supervisor listed in the posting and the appropriate business center once the results have been reviewed.

An appointee may NOT begin working in a new position until the background check process is completed with satisfactory results. No allowances are made regarding this requirement.


Motor Vehicle History Checks

Positions which require driving a University vehicle, or a personal vehicle, on behalf of the University, need a motor vehicle check. This requirement must be included in the “Additional Required Qualifications” of the position description at the time a recruitment action is submitted through the Online Recruiting System. Department/Unit administrators are required to identify those positions in which the incumbent is required to perform security-sensitive work.  

The incumbent is required to possess and maintain a valid driver's license in their state of residence. Final candidates may obtain their official/certified (Oregon license holders will request a Certified Court Print) driving history from the issuing state's DMV for the past 36 months and either submit an electronic copy to, or fax a copy to 541.737.7771 Attn: Employment (most DMV offices will fax directly if requested) or submit a hard copy to:

Office of Human Resources
122 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR  97331
Attn: Employment

An appointee may NOT begin working in a new position until the motor vehicle history check process is completed with satisfactory results. No allowances are made regarding this requirement.

This policy does not apply to incumbents who only use motor pool vehicles.