Professional Reference Checks

Design GoodHire's first subjective employment screening service.



Jan - Jun 2020

My Role

I was the sole designer responsible for the end-to-end design of reference checks, from conducting user interviews, prototyping, to delivering pixel-perfect mockups.​


Responsive Web App 

Project Background

GoodHire is known for empowering HR professionals to make the right hiring decisions by offering employment background screening services. One service our enterprise customers have been asking for is the reference check. Therefore, I was tasked with designing reference checks to help GoodHire attract and retain enterprise customers.

Lost Opportunity Value



Today, GoodHire offers a variety of background screening services such as criminal records checks, driving record checks, and education verifications. All the services provided are fact-based, and our system has been built to support that.


The reference check is the first screening service we will offer that is subjective in nature. The challenge is about learning how a subjective screening service changes the way we support our employers, and designing to help them make the right hiring decisions with reference checks.


Employers find it painful to conduct reference checks manually

To understand the why and how behind employers ordering reference checks, I conducted 7 user interviews with both prospective and internal customers. The interviews helped me empathize deeply with our users and served as strong evidence to advocate for them later in the design process. 


Currently, reference checks are mostly done in-house. HR professionals would use various means to reach out to references. The process can be long and tedious. For employers who need to run over 10 checks a day, conducting reference checks manually is simply unrealistic. 

I do it by phone, or email references, or fax them. I have snail-mailed to people. Basically annoying people until they help me.

From an HR Coordinator

Sometimes I have to chase the reference down for weeks. I have been known to drive to an org and try to talk to somebody because we can’t onboard those people without those checks.

From an HR Generalist

Based on the information gathered from research, I wrote a user scenario that helped the team have a better picture of our customer’s needs.

Julia is a busy recruiter. For all the higher-level positions she is hiring for her clients, she would need at least 2 professional references before she can onboard people. She currently does reference checks herself and the process is labor-intensive. She sends out emails, makes phone calls, or even faxes the references to get it done. Although Julia wishes to have more personal interactions with the references, it’s simply unrealistic because she has a huge volume of hires on a daily basis. She really needs to speed it up so she can bring in new hires more quickly.


Julia can automate her reference checks with the service offered from us. Once we collect the candidate information and consents, we will run reference checks for her. Within 2-3 business days, the results will be ready for her to review. 

Order reference checks in a flexible way

Julia can order reference checks either as part of her customized product package, or purchase them as add-ons.

Request candidate to complete details with one click

Julia can request her candidate to complete the reference check details easily. Once her candidate completes the info, we will run the report for her.

Review reference check results easily

When results come back, the “Ready for Review” report status on the dashboard draws Julia’s attention to the check. She can go over the results and mark the report as acceptable when she finishes reviewing.


Identify Major Touchpoints by Mapping Out the Flow

I started off by mapping out the user flow for reference checks, from our user purchasing checks, getting the results back, to reviewing the results. Once the whole experience was mapped out, I identified major touchpoints that would require insights from user research.


We can use existing workflows for purchasing reference checks and filling out candidate details, but since reference check is subjective, what status should we show for the result? When the results come back, would employers want to go in and review each reference check? 

Advocate for a new report status

Today, we have two report statuses, “Clear” and “Alert”. This makes sense because all of our checks are fact-based. However, reference checks are subjective, so we can‘t pass judgment on the results. The biggest challenge I encountered was to persuade my stakeholders to adopt a new report status for the service.

My stakeholders’ idea is to re-use “Clear”, and educate our user that “Clear” in the context of reference checks means the report is ready for review. The user interviews I conducted quickly revealed that adopting “Clear” when we actually expect our users to review the results would totally confuse them.

7/7 users believe "Clear" means it's positive. 

 'Clear' means everything is good to go. There is nothing that needs to be double verified. There is nothing negative. They have good references.

From a Recruiter

I presented the finding to my stakeholders. However, they thought changing the wording from“Clear” to “Complete” would solve the problem. To test if “Complete” would work, I conducted more interviews. Our users believe “Complete” also means it’s positive, or they have completed reviewing the check. Neither “Clear” nor “Complete” would work. My stakeholders finally agreed that we need a new status for reference checks. Otherwise, the employers risk making wrong hiring decisions because they might miss reviewing reference checks. 

I tested out a few more options and settled on "Ready for Review" as our new status. The solid icon aligns with our brand better, and the orange color indicates a sense of urgency without making people associate it with "Alert". Compared to "Reference Check Ready", "Ready for Review" is general enough so it can be reused for similar checks. It also doesn't have the negative connotation which "Pending Review" has.

Determine if an evaluation status is needed

Now we have a new status that supports reference checks, we still need to figure out if an evaluation status should be incorporated into the service. My idea is to help our employers mark the report as acceptable once they finish reviewing.

However, my stakeholder was concerned that our Mid-market customers who might have 100 checks to run per week would not care about reading every reference check that comes back, and this review tool serves as extra work for them. 

I believe this tool is important even for our larger customer based on our research:

8 out of 8 HR professionals interviewed believe a reference check needs human eyes on it and they would go over each reference check to make sure everything is ok. 

Someone would have to review the reference check no matter what.

From an HR Generalist

After clicking “Mark as Acceptable”, we show who did the review and when, so we leave an audit trail that matters for our users. Besides, without this evaluation status, our HR users would likely forget that they have reviewed it, especially for people with a huge volume of hires.

In the end, we decided to go with the evaluation status. To help our users like Julia review the reference checks more efficiently, the section for evaluation is always visible when they scroll down and read all the answers. This way, Julia can quickly mark the report as acceptable when she finishes reading. 

Design the overall report status

Employers purchase background checks as a package from us. Each check comes back with its own result status. Now we have settled on report statuses for reference checks, what should the overall report status look like on our dashboard when reference check is included in a package? 


We want to draw the employer’s attention to the reference check when it’s ready for review on our dashboard, but the team also agrees the “Alert” status is more urgent. Since we only allow one overall report status on our dashboard, we decided that “Alert” would always be prioritized. Therefore,  “Ready for Review” would only be shown as the overall report status when there are no alerts on other checks, or when all the alerts have been reviewed. 


The table below shows a mapping of what the overall report status should be when a reference check is ready and the corresponding call-to-actions on the dashboard. 

Keep the results confidential

Our user interviews indicated that employers expect the content of references to be confidential and not shared with the candidate. However, since full candidate transparency has been a major component of our brand and product ethos, I consulted my stakeholders and decided to launch a survey to gather more quantitative data from our customers. 


We ended up gathering 202 responses from employers who use reference checks as part of their hiring process. Here are the results.

Employers who prefer NOT to share

      Reasons for not sharing:

  • Sharing reference check results opens the company up to liability

  • Protect the reference from negative blowback

Employers who prefer to share

      Reasons for sharing:

  • Candidates deserve to know the results if it comes back negative

  • It’s good feedback for a candidate to know other’s thoughts of the past work they performed

Based on the data, we decided to keep the reference check results confidential and not share the results with the candidate by default.  

Increase discoverability of the reference check reports

Currently, the report page has several tabs with different reports tucked under each. The reports are not very discoverable. I learned from our customer support that people stay on the overview tab and have no clue where to look for reports, so it’s also likely that our users couldn’t find reference check reports as well.


In response to that, I introduced notification badges that show the number of actions that need to be taken for each tab on the report view. When the user completes each task, the number will go down. 7/7 users tested noticed the badges and love having this visual indicator. 


The product is currently being rolled out. To measure success, we will track the revenue it generates and how many mid-market customers will sign up because a reference check is included in the package. From the user experience perspective, we will track clicks of "Review References" on the dashboard and clicks of "Mark as Acceptable" on the report to evaluate user engagement. We will also track clicks of the reference check tab on the report view to measure discoverability.


To enhance the product, the next phase will involve customizing role-specific questions based on customer needs. Another interesting area to explore is to help our HR professionals share the results with relevant stakeholders, so they can use reference checks to develop areas of improvement for the candidate and learn how the candidate can be better managed. 


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