Candidates

CANDIDATES

We have listed the most frequency asked question for Candidates in this section, if you would like to add to the list please contact us.

To view any FAQ please click on the relevant background check below:

CHARACTER REFERENCES

What are character references?

A character reference, also known as a ‘personal reference’, is a general assessment of a candidate that comes from someone who…

  • has known the candidate for some time (ideally three years or more) on a personal level; and,
  • is not a relative; and,
  • has not worked with the candidate in a traditional job setting.

Character references are often used by prospective employers to find out a little more about a candidate. The idea is to have a general assessment of your personal character and qualities beyond a normal work environment. However your prospective employer should give you guidance on what type of information they expect to receive when they ask for character references.

My prospective employer is asking for character references. What is the best way to handle this?

Depending on the position you’ve applied for, an employer will request character references for a number of reasons, such as ensuring that you are an honest and trustworthy person, that you have basic social abilities, etc. The first step therefore is to understand what qualities the job requires, and if possible get an idea of the corporate culture of the company.

Secondly, take the time to choose the appropriate individuals that will provide references for you (also known as “referees”). Who they are may reflect on you as much as what they say about you. Ideally, the referees will be people that …

  • are integrated within their community and/or have high credentials, such as a bank manager, a university professor, doctor, solicitor, etc.;
  • you have known for 3 years or more and are able to back their statements with examples if necessary.

Thirdly, check in advance with your selected referees that they are happy to provide this reference, and provide them with a description of the job and the qualities sought. This will help them elaborate on those traits that fit with the prospective employer’s needs. Also tell them the name of your prospective employer so that they are prepared when contact is made with them.

Your prospective employer may provide you with a form for your referees to complete, or contact them directly. If your prospective employer simply asks for character references to be submitted, check what specific details they expect to be included in the reference, or if there’s a particular structure to follow. In general, character references should contain the following items:

  • How long the referee has known you and in what capacity.
  • A description of specific qualities, for example “demonstrated sharp decision-making in difficult situations when travelling together” as opposed to just “being nice”. Traits deemed important to employers include, but are not limited to, the candidate’s ability to communicate, their self-confidence, interpersonal skills, reliability, consideration for others, honesty, flexibility and leadership, calmness under pressure, etc.
  • Contact details for the employer to follow up with the referee if necessary.

Finally, character reference letters should be short and to the point, professionally presented, and signed no more than six months before the submission of your application.

EMPLOYER REFERENCES

What are employer references?

What are employer references?

Employer references are statements from previous employers that confirm what a candidate has said at the various stages of the selection process. Employer references may contain facts (such as dates of employment, job title, etc.) as well as opinions about the candidate. Prospective employers require this to make sure the candidate will be a good fit for their organisation. Employer references are issued by the HR department, former boss or ex-colleague qualified to do so on behalf of the employer.

Does your employer have to give you a reference?

ecent case law indicates that there can be a moral obligation on a current or recent employer to provide a reference, as refusal to do so may damage your opportunity to secure a job. It is therefore good practice for employers to give references, but they are not legally obliged to do so, except in the following circumstances:

  • Your employment contract states that you are entitled to a reference.
  • Some regulated industries, such as financial services, require employers to provide references.
  • The employer normally gives references to employees; refusing to do so for you could form the ground for a claim of discrimination or victimisation.

If an employer refuses to provide a reference, you are left with two options:

  • Asking ex-supervisors or colleagues willing to do so on a personal basis.
  • Assessing whether the refusal to provide a reference constitutes a breach of the employers’ obligations or a case of discrimination; and if so deciding whether it’s worth taking the matter to court. Going down that route would require legal advice from employment law experts.

Who should I include as a referee, and how best do I approach them?

Unless otherwise stated, identify three referees, ideally among your current and most recent employers. Take the time to identify those individuals who know you made a difference at work, for example by solving problems, increasing sales, improving operational efficiency, etc. Ideally this would be someone who was in a position to appraise your work performance (i.e. your boss) but a work colleague, co-worker, or fellow team member can also be referee. Contact them in advance to make sure that they are willing to help and enthusiastically recommend you to an employer. Tell them what type of job you are looking for and the qualities that would likely be of interest to your potential employer. Ask your referees for a convenient time to be contacted and appropriate contact details. Consider giving them your latest CV.

When and how should I disclose my references?

It is not usually necessary to include written references or a list of referees in your CV, as you are obliged to produce references only when requested; and these tend to be requested at the interview stage or when you are offered the position. If you feel, however, that a prospective employer asking your current employer for a reference would cause a problem, say so at your interview. Your prospective employer may be prepared to wait until you have told your current employer that you are leaving.

When providing referee details, make sure you include:

  • Contact Name
  • Their Job Title
  • Name of Company
  • Contact details, telephone, address and email
  • Brief description of your working relationship with the referee
  • Overview of your responsibilities & performance results
  • Consider adding a quote from the referee, taken from letter of reference, work appraisal, spoken, etc.

What if I don’t have any prior work experience?

If you have no professional experience, than character references may be the only valid substitute. For more information about character references, please refer to character References above.

What if I can’t find all of my previous supervisors?

If your direct supervisors cannot be contacted, try their supervisors, your co-workers, or the HR department.

What information will the reference contain?

Employers will vary on how they approach this. Many employers choose only to give factual details such as dates of employment, job title, and reason for leaving. Others will also include an assessment of what you did, how well you did it, your personality and how you work with others. They may also include information about the referee, such as their own position within the company, their relationship to you, and if they were in a position to appraise your work.

Does a previous employer have to reveal any problems that occurred in the past employment?

From a legal perspective, the employer has a duty of care to the candidate, which implies that the reference must be true, accurate, fair, and not give a misleading impression. The reference, however, does not have to be full and comprehensive.

Equally, the author of a reference has a duty of care to the potential employer seeking the reference. Relevant and material facts and information should be truthfully disclosed, especially where problems or difficulties have been experienced with the candidate’s conduct or capability. This means that if, for example, you were disciplined for gross misconduct of severe performance issues, and the author is able to corroborate all statements contained in the reference with evidence, this may form part of the reference.

From a legal perspective, the employer has a duty of care to the candidate, which implies that the reference must be true, accurate, fair, and not give a misleading impression. The reference, however, does not have to be full and comprehensive.

Equally, the author of a reference has a duty of care to the potential employer seeking the reference. Relevant and material facts and information should be truthfully disclosed, especially where problems or difficulties have been experienced with the candidate’s conduct or capability. This means that if, for example, you were disciplined for gross misconduct of severe performance issues, and the author is able to corroborate all statements contained in the reference with evidence, this may form part of the reference.

CRIMINAL RECORD CHECKS

I have a criminal record. What should I do?

It depends on the situation:

1. If you have unspent convictions and your employer asks, you are obliged to tell the truth. Legally speaking, an employer has the right to terminate an employee who did not disclose unspent convictions if asked at the time of hire. Furthermore, we believe that it’s best to make full disclosure to your prospective employer.

2. If you have spent convictions and the role is not an exception to the Rehabilitation Act 1974, you can truthfully answer ‘no’ to the question “have you got a criminal record?”. An employer will not be allowed to require records of spent convictions and will not be allowed to terminate your employment contract on the basis of spent convictions.

3. If you have spent convictions, and the role is an exception to the Rehabilitation Act 1974 and you are being asked, you are obliged to disclose all convictions.

In any case, employers will have to consider any conviction disclosed in terms of its relevancy to the role in question. So unless they legally cannot hire you, a conviction should not automatically disqualify you. For further advice, we recommend contacting NACRO. Another excellent source of information is UNLOCK’s website. Both organisations work with ex-offenders to facilitate their rehabilitation.

Will the information contained on my DBS Check remain confidential?

Yes. Organisations that handle criminal records must abide by strict guidelines, which state that any information revealed must be used fairly, kept securely, and only for as long as it is necessary. Furthermore, they can only “share information with relevant persons in the course of their specific duties relevant to recruitment and vetting processes”. For a copy of the DBS guidelines, click here, and for the Disclosure guidelines, click here.

Can I refuse to apply for a DBS check?

Yes. However, as long as the employer complies with the rules of the Rehabilitation Act 1974, and as long as it doesn’t discriminate you against other candidates, it would be entitled to end your job application. If you are unsure why you are being asked to consent to a criminal record check, the best thing to do is to ask the employer why the job role requires this.

How long does it take?

The duration varies according to a number of factors, however as a rule of thumb:

  • a Basic check will take a week upon receipt of the completed application;
  • a Standard check will take two to four weeks upon receipt of the completed application;
  • and an Enhanced checks will take four to six weeks upon receipt of the completed application.

Why would an employer require a criminal record check?

Employers typically require criminal record checks because:

1. There is a legal obligation to do so. This is for example the case for many roles that involve working with children or vulnerable adults;

2. They may seek to promote a safe business environment and protect their reputation, particularly if the role involves access to sensitive information, interaction with customers at home, etc.

What information is verified?

In the UK, there are three levels of check: Basic, Standard, and Enhanced, which correspond to different levels of information.

  • Basic check only contains details of current unspent convictions or states that there are no such convictions. It is available to any candidate applying for any role, across all industries.
  • Standard check shows spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings held on the Police National Computer (PNC). However, it doesn’t include a check of the ISA’s barred lists, therefore this level of check is not suitable for those working with children or vulnerable adults. An employer can only require a Standard check if the role is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
  • An Enhanced check contains the same information as the standard check, as well as information held by the local police forces based on the address history provided by the candidate. It may also determine whether the candidate is included in the Children or Vulnerable Adults barred lists. Similar to Standard checks, an employer can only require an Enhanced check if the role is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

The table below gives an overview of information included with each type of criminal record check.

BASIC STANDARD ENHANCED
Unspent convictions YES YES YES
Spent convictions NO YES YES
Cautions NO YES YES
Inclusion on children’s lists NO NO YES
Inclusion on adults’ lists NO NO YES
Other relevant information held by police forces NO NO YES

It is important to highlight that employers are only authorised to require a Standard or Enhanced check if the role is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA).

What are criminal record checks?

Criminal record checks consist of checking records held by the Police, the Department of Health, and the Department of Education & Skills. In practice this is done by liaising with the Disclosure and Barring Service (for England and Wales) and Disclosure Scotland (for Scotland), both of which are government-sponsored bodies that operate as a single point of contact. Criminal record checks differ from simple police checks, which only disclose information stored on the Police National Computer (PNC).

The criminal record check is erroneous. What should I do?

In short: contact your employer and, if applicable, the umbrella organisation immediately, to make sure that the mistake is addressed and does not happen again in the future. Although this does not happen very often, mistakes have happened in the past, and can still happen for a variety of reasons. Whether or not this will have an adverse effect on your job application will depend on the nature of the mistake. It will be up to the employer to decide whether or not to pursue the recruitment process.

How is a criminal record check carried out?

From a candidate perspective, the process is fairly straightforward:

1. First, the employer must obtain your consent before carrying out a criminal record check.

2. Second, you will have to complete an application form and provide proof of your identity, date of birth and current address. The employer may manage the process itself, or outsource it to an “umbrella body”, such as Sanctis.

3. Third, the employer, or the umbrella organisation, applies for a disclosure of your criminal record from the relevant government body (the Disclosure and Barring Service or Disclosure Scotland).

What are the “Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974”, “spent” and “unspent convictions”?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) aims at rehabilitating ex-offenders by not allowing certain convictions affect the rest of their lives.

Under the ROA, anyone given a prison sentence of no more than two and a half years is eligible for a rehabilitation period, which depends on the sentence and may last up to 10 years. Once the rehabilitation period has ended, the conviction becomes spent and an employer cannot ask a candidate to disclose it. As a candidate, you can truthfully answer “no” to the question “do you have a criminal record?”, and the employer cannot refuse to employ you on the basis of spent convictions.

On the other hand, an unspent conviction is one where the rehabilitation period has not expired. A prison sentence of more than two and a half years is not eligible for the rehabilitation period and will never become spent.