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How to complete reference checks in international education

HR software

Reference checks are one of the most important steps in selecting and hiring a new faculty or staff member at your international school. Not only do reference checks give you the opportunity to determine if your chosen candidate is suited for the role in question, it means you’ll prevent wasting both time and money on an ill-suited new hire.

There are countless benefits to performing a reference check, including:

  • Verifying the information provided by the candidate, whether verbally or in their CV/Cover Letter.
  • Gaining a more in-depth insight into the candidate’s skills, knowledge and abilities from someone who knows the candidate in a workplace setting and has watched them teach.
  • Assessing the qualities of the candidate against the requirements of the job to assess suitability.
  • Finding patterns of both desired and desired behaviour.
  • Detecting developmental needs.


Steps to planning an effective teaching reference

  1. We don’t recommend letting your candidates select any work-related referee. It’s important your reference check is with a former supervisor or superior of the candidate.
  2. Let your candidate know you’re planning to contact their reference so they can give their referee a heads-up. This will also help the referee to prepare for your call.
  3. Don’t limit yourself to one referee – take the time to contact two or three work-related references. If the candidate’s current employer doesn’t know they’re seeking a new job, go to the previous employers.
  4. Make a list of questions to ask. This will help ensure your reference checks goes smoothly and allow you to compare candidates equally.


Example questions to ask in an international teaching job reference

  1. What was your relationship with the candidate?
  2. How long was the candidate employed at your school?
  3. What was the candidate’s job title and their respective job responsibilities?
  4. Was the candidate successful in fulfilling their duties?
  5. What was it like to supervise the candidate?
  6. Was the candidate a valuable member of the team?
  7. What unique skill did the candidate bring to your school?
  8. What were the candidate’s strengths?
  9. What were the candidate’s areas of improvement?
  10. How would they describe the candidate’s absenteeism record?
  11. Did you ever find it necessary to reprimand or discipline the candidate? If so, what were the circumstances?
  12. Considering the job being applied for, do you think the candidate is suitable?
  13. Why did the candidate leave your employment?
  14. Would you rehire the candidate. Why or why not?
  15. Is there anything else you would like to add?


What can’t I ask about?

Many employers are under the misconception that it is illegal to discuss the job performance or behaviour of a current or former employee. This is false. Rather, it is prohibited to discuss topics that may result in discrimination, including race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability. The exact parameters will differ from country to country. To protect yourself and your school, simply ensure your questions only focus on the fitness of the candidate for the job.


Steps to performing an effective teaching reference

  1. Identify yourself, including your title and the name of your school. Let the referee know you are calling about a reference for the candidate.
  2. Ask if it’s a good time to talk or whether they would rather reschedule.
  3. Let the referee know you have received the consent from the applicant and that all responses will remain confidential.
  4. Give a brief description of the role you are considering the applicant for.
  5. Give the referee ample time to answer your questions. Do not cut the referee off or put words in their mouth.
  6. Use a set rating scale to score candidates.


Assessing the candidate

Results and feedback attained from reference checks need to be reviewed carefully in order to be useful.

We recommend the use of a set rating scale to both enable a more accurate and granular assessment of the candidate’s suitability for the position and minimise personal bias. This can be as simple as a meets/does not meet rating, a scoring out of 5, and in-depth rating rubrics. An expanded rating scale will help you make meaningful distinctions among candidates.


Errors and personal biases

It’s important you make every effort possible to minimise the potential for errors and personal biases to influence your evaluation of candidates. Errors can occur when your evaluation is influenced by something other than the evidence provided by the referee. Examples can include:

  • Leniency and stringency – Tendency to assess candidates consistently high (leniency effect) or consistently low (stringency effect).
  • Central tendency – Tendency to use only the middle points on the rating scale while avoiding the extreme points, leading to all candidates being rated as average.
  • Halo and Horn effects – Tendency to allow one good (halo) or bad (horn) characteristic to impact the overall evaluation of the candidate.
  • Fatigue – Tendency for assessors to become fatigued and therefore less consistent or less vigilant their scoring.
  • Stereotypes – Judging candidates based on demographics such as sex, race, ethnicity, age, degree of education, politics or interests.
  • Similar-to-me – Giving a candidate a more favourable score than warranted because of a similarity to you, or a less favourable score than warranted because of a dissimilarity to you.

By becoming aware of errors and personal biases, you can work to mitigate them.


Completing a reference check not only safeguards your institution from potential mismatches but also affords you the opportunity to delve deeper into a candidate’s professional history. The benefits, ranging from verifying information to uncovering both strengths and developmental needs, are crucial for making informed decisions.

Remember, the insights gained from effective reference checks lay the foundation for a thriving and culturally diverse educational community. By remaining vigilant against errors and biases, you pave the way for a recruitment process that is not just thorough but also equitable, setting the stage for the success of your international school.

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  • Ability to create a unique educator profile that holds your references and important documents, such as teaching qualifications, all in one location.
  • Access to our entire database of 400+ international schools representing 100+ countries.
  • 5,000+ teaching vacancies every recruitment season.
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  • Access to our entire database of schools to discover your next teaching role.
  • Submission of three job applications.

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Gary Booth Principal
Meritton British International School

Meritton British International School