An interview forms a key part of a selection process, but how do you verify claims made by candidates? How do you know that they did what they said they did?
Various surveys suggest that between 50% and 75% of people lie on their CVs and HR Managers claim to have caught 38% lying in the interview. Well, do the maths. If 38% get caught then between 12% and 37% of those that have lied, are not found out. That is why references are so important.
In reality, when taking a reference your starting point is identifying the managers the candidate has reported to. Then you need to call them. Written references are a paper pushing exercise. What you need is a verbal reference; talk to the managers and verify claims and find out what they were like to work with. You can cross reference with a written reference from HR who are likely to restrict the information to confirming the job, the dates of employment, and sick days. The sex pests at Oxfam manoeuvred their way round the reference question. They won't be the last.
As part of our normal hiring practice, we conducted reference checks and received positive references from his previous employers, including Oxfam.