5 Useful Questions Employers Should Ask When Conducting a Reference Check

You can gather almost all the information you need to make a hiring decision through a candidate’s resume, phone screening responses and in-person interview. However, there’s one more crucial step you need to take to determine whether someone is the right fit for an open position: a reference check. Contacting a job candidate’s references will help you better understand what it’s like to manage and interact with your potential new employee, and determine how well they’ll fit within the culture and fulfill their job duties. But to uncover the information you need, you must ask appropriate reference check questions. To help you in the reference check process, consider this background information and five useful questions.


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Why you should check references

When you interview a candidate about their employment history and past professional experiences, their answers can be biased—even if they’re striving to be sincere—because they want to make the best impression possible. Getting the perspective of a third-party who has worked alongside or managed the candidate can provide better insight into how the candidate behaves on the job and how well they performed previous job functions. There are three primary reasons to check a candidate’s references:


  • Validate resume information. A reference can verify whether the candidate has the job experience and skills they claim.

  • Gain insight into the candidate’s work ethic. A reference can give you a glimpse into the candidate’s character, such as their willingness to work hard and meet challenges.

  • Identify strengths that may better position the candidate for the role. A reference can share unique skills and abilities the candidate may not have shared, or further validate those they did share.


Also, when asking candidates for references, request they include at least one former manager. While gaining coworkers’ perspectives are important, leaders are responsible for regularly evaluating their employees and can provide more details about the candidate’s job performance.


5 Important reference check questions

The questions you ask will determine how well you’re able to uncover the information you need to make the right hiring decision. Here are five reference check questions you can use to help determine whether the candidate you’re pursuing is the best fit for the job.


  1. What was it like to work with this candidate? Asking this question will prompt the reference to share their day-to-day experience either working alongside or managing the candidate. Their response can shed light on things like their general attitude in the workplace, how they treated colleagues, how they performed their job duties and tackled assigned projects and whether they were reliable and trustworthy. This will give you a better idea of how well this candidate will mesh with the rest of the team.

  3. What are this candidate’s greatest strengths? While the candidate has likely already shared their strengths, abilities and skills with you, colleagues and managers may see a team members’ strengths differently. Often, the qualities other people notice are the ones we exhibit the most. By asking this question, you can identify which skills and abilities you can expect the candidate to display most often.

  5. What were this candidate’s biggest areas of opportunity while you worked together? Everyone has weaknesses and skills they need to improve, but it’s crucial to make sure a candidate’s shortcomings don’t conflict with critical elements of the job you’re hiring for. Asking this question will help clarify specific things the candidate may need to address to meet their full potential. Just be sure to consider the length of time that’s passed since the reference worked with the candidate as they may have overcome these weaknesses in the meantime.

  7. What was one of this candidate’s best accomplishments while you worked together? It’s important to determine whether or not a candidate is someone who regularly goes above and beyond their prescribed duties before you extend an offer. Asking this question will give references the opportunity to reflect on moments when the candidate leveraged their strengths, displayed unique skills or overcame a difficult challenge. This can provide you with insight into how the candidate may behave when faced with similar needs and challenges at your organization.

  9. If you could hire this candidate again, would you? Why or why not? This simple question may be the most critical one on the list. A reference who would rehire someone, shows the candidate is honourable and adds value to a team. However, if a reference would hesitate to hire a candidate again, it could be a warning sign. Be sure to understand the reference’s reasoning behind their answer, before making your decision.


The reference check is an integral part of the hiring process and can help you uncover information about a candidate you may not otherwise discover. By asking the right questions, you can gain a better understanding of the individual you’re considering and determine whether they’re the best fit for the job.


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