Share it

20 Best Questions to Ask References and Guide

What is a reference check?

A reference check is a process of verifying information about a candidate during the hiring process. It can be conducted via phone or email and allows an employer to make a more informed hiring decision before extending an offer.

When should you do a reference check?

When an employer is considering extending an offer to a candidate and they need additional sources of information before extending an offer a reference check occurs.

These sources can include conversations with current and previous managers, co-workers and often include letters of recommendation, samples of work if applicable, verification of skill sets, and educational background.

Why should you conduct a reference check?

Think you’ve found the right candidate for the job?  Make sure and still conduct a reference check. Why put so much time and energy into the interview process and then skip this crucial step?

You should conduct references checks to:

  1. Spot potential red flags and warning signs about previous behavior.
  2. Ensure employment history information is accurate such as dates of employment and job duties and job title.
  3. Verify facts and skillsets by speaking with former managers.
  4. Discover how the candidate interacts with coworkers and takes direction from supervisors.
  5. Learn about the candidate’s work ethic, working style, dependability, attitude, and communication skills.

How do you conduct a reference check?

  1. When making reference calls first identify yourself, the company you’re with, and the person that has listed them as a reference.
  2. Make sure it’s a good time to have a brief discussion or if a reference call should be scheduled for a later time.
  3. Let the reference know all answers will remain confidential.
  4. Proceed to verify dates of employment, knowledge base, and skillsets.
  5. Describe the open position you are hiring for and ask them if they feel they would be a fit for the role.
  6. Make sure and give the reference time to answer each question and do not lead them to easy answers, have them answer directly.

20 Best Reference Check questions

  1. What was your relationship with the candidate?
  2. How long did you work with each other?
  3. How would you rate their work? 
  4. What were their daily duties?
  5. What were their main responsibilities?
  6. Were they dependable? Did they get to work on time?
  7. Did they complete the tasks and assignments given to them?
  8. Did they take direction well?
  9. How did they support coworkers?
  10. Why did they leave your position?
  11. What are their strong points? 
  12. What are their weak points? 
  13. How did they get along with other people? 
  14. Do they have good communication and listening skills?
  15. Were there any behaviors that affected job performance?
  16. Would you rehire? yes or no  If no why not? 
  17. Did they require a lot of supervision or work well independently?
  18. How did the candidate handle work-related stress?
  19. Do you think the candidate can do the job we spoke about?
  20. Would you like to add anything else?

10 Tips for checking references

Inform candidates you check references, don’t delegate references checks, take detailed notes, conduct the reference check via phone, start off with easy questions, verify employment dates and work history, review social media posts, don’t ask closed-ended questions, assure the reference of confidentiality, and be on guard for fake references.

1. Inform the candidates upfront you check references.

Want an easy way to weed out candidates with poor references or problems to hide?  Be upfront about the reference check and you may find that your candidate list shrinks itself.

The people that you do interview will tend to be more accurate and honest during the interview process. Add this tip to your reference best practices and knowledge base.

2. Don’t delegate the reference check to someone else.

We are all busy and it may not seem like a big deal to delegate previous employer reference checks to HR, but it could be a huge mistake.

Only you know exactly what you are looking for in an employee and no one else will ask the same questions in quite the way you would.

It could be a casual remark made about the candidate that may reveal something that clashes with your companies’ culture.  Something you would have missed had someone else been conducting the professional reference check.

3. Make sure and take detailed notes.

When speaking with a candidate’s former hiring manager it is important to take detailed notes of the conversation especially if you are talking to multiple managers for multiple candidates.

You never know when you might need to refer back to your notes when evaluating the candidate for a potential hire so don’t miss this important step.

Conduct at least 2 or 3 reference checks from the most recent managers/supervisors of the candidate. If one reference is great and you get a mixed review on the other one it is best to get a third reference before making a final decision for the complete picture.

4. Conduct the reference checks by phone.

Pick up the phone when conducting a reference check about previous work experience.  You miss out on tone and inflection when using email and can easily misinterpret content.

You also may miss out on warning signs as only a phone conversation will reveal. It’s unlikely a candidate’s reference will reveal something negative in writing because they don’t want the liability issues.

Also, enthusiasm is difficult to distinguish and you can’t hear hesitation to an answer by reading the response through email.

5. Start off with easy questions

Warm-up with some easy questions (“How long did you work together”) before diving in.  Always pay attention to your wording.  Rather than asking “What do you feel are Carla’s biggest weaknesses?” you could ask “What do you feel Carla needs to do to further her career?”

Word questions in a positive way rather than trying to sniff out problems.

6. Verify employment dates

Make sure the employment dates listed on the resume are the correct dates when you verify them with the manager. We often talk to candidates who say they worked at their last company for 2 years when it was only 2 months.

Sometimes the last position on a candidate’s resume will say 2017 to present for example, when really that position ended in 2018 and it is currently 2020.

This is a vital piece of the reference checking process.

7. Review social media content/posts.

In performing your due diligence this is yet another sort of reference check. Checking any public Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, can show revealing information about the candidate.

Also, check out their LinkedIn profile to look for resume discrepancies and recommendations. You can also check to see if they share any professional contacts as these may provide more references for you to check.

Make sure and take the time to do reference checks and don’t merely write them off as a nuisance.

You might learn the hard way that a few phone calls could make all the difference in selecting the right employee for your position. Hopefully, this reference check guide can help.

8. Don’t Ask Close-ended questions

You want to frame the questions you ask in a way that doesn’t lead the former supervisor to answer the questions in a vague way.

An example of  what not to ask would be “John got along with his coworkers correct?” Instead, frame the question as “How did John interact with fellow team members”?

9. Assure the reference of confidentiality

Does the former supervisor hesitate to answer your questions? does it seem like they are holding something back about the candidate’s job performance?

Many times managerial references hold back their true feelings or knowledge due to the fear of the conversation getting back to the former employee.

Put the reference at ease by assuring them your conversation will remain between the 2 of you and will not be revealed to the former employee. This will help you obtain the best factual reference possible.

10. Be on guard for fake references

Candidates that have burned bridges at previous positions with former employers or just have a terrible attitude and work ethic will oftentimes provide fake managerial references using a former colleague or a list of references with bad contact information.

It is important to get honest references so when speaking with the previous supervisor it’s imperative to verify the reference’s title, their full name, what company they worked with the candidate at, what dates they worked for the company together, and were they the candidates direct supervisor.

If you do not have the time to sort through hundreds or thousands of resumes and need the top, qualified, screened and reference checked talent contact one of the best IT staffing agencies in Atlanta the industry insiders at Apollo Technical.

Share it


Related Posts