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. Reference checks give employers deeper insights into a candidate's characteristics and skills by talking with the candidate's references. I was tasked with designing the reference checks to bring more customers onboard.


User Interviews; Affinity Diagramming; Usability Testings


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 our own 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 resort to 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 additional 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.

Kevin is a busy recruiter. For all his positions, he needs at least 2 professional references before he can onboard people. Kevin currently conducts reference checks himself. He sends out emails, makes phone calls, or even faxes the references to get it done. It sometimes can get frustrating that he never hears back from the reference and therefore delaying the onboarding or even losing the candidate. Kevin hopes he could automate the reference check process while still getting quality answers around the candidate's qualifications from the references.


Kevin is now freed from having to conduct reference checks himself with our service. Let's assume Kevin orders a reference check for his candidate Amy. Once Amy fills out her information and consent, we will run the checks. Within 2-3 business days, the results will be ready for Kevin to review. 

Order reference checks in a flexible way

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

Request candidate to complete details with one click

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

Review reference check results easily

When results come back, the “Ready for Review” report status on the dashboard draws Kevin's attention to the check. He can go over the results and mark the report as acceptable when he 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 a recruiter as busy as Kevin care to actually 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 on behalf of the employers. The biggest challenge for me was to persuade my stakeholders to adopt a new report status for this service.

My stakeholders’ idea is to re-use “Clear”, and educate our users that “Clear” in the context of reference checks means the report is ready for review. The user interviews I conducted quickly revealed that using “Clear” when we actually expect our users to review the results would 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 the result is positive, or means they have completed reviewing the check. Neither “Clear” nor “Complete” would work. We finally reached the consensus that a new status would be desirable 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 evaluation status might be redundant for them. 

I believe this evaluation status 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 Kevin to review the reference checks more efficiently, the section for evaluation is always visible when they scroll down to read all the answers. This way, Kevin can quickly mark the report as acceptable when he finishes reading. 

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.


To increase discoverability, 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. 

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

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


We started to gather feedback after the product was shipped through surveys and interviews. The feedback so far has been great. HR professionals appreciate time saved for them with this automated solution. 

 Before the manual process was a mess and caused so much back and forth. It's been great having GoodHire take that responsibility off myself. We thought your questions for reference check were better than the ones we asked...I got two compliments last week from our candidates saying how easy it was to follow the prompts from section to section when they were filling out.

From a Recruiter

In addition, the new report status I advocated for later got adopted quickly by our customers, and they were hoping to use this new status to replace "Alert" status for other background check results where there are minor discrepancies they don't care so much. We ended up widely adopting the new status across the app.


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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