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Top 10 Reference Check Questions For Employment

Illustration of a clipboard and pen with a list of reference check questions.

Hiring a candidate who is the right fit involves more than reviewing resumes and conducting interviews. Professional reference checks can help employers understand a candidate’s past performance, identify strengths and areas for growth, and verify information. This article highlights why employers may want to conduct thorough reference checks, details insightful questions to ask during these checks, and provides valuable tips for executing them effectively.

In the modern hiring landscape, recruiters and employers seek every edge possible to identify top talent. A critical tool in their arsenal is posing the right reference check questions. Intentional, role-specific questions can help bridge the gap between what a candidate shares about their professional past and how their former supervisors or coworkers perceived their performance and behavior in previous roles. The responses you receive may be a predictor of future performance and can help you make a confident hiring decision.

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What Is A Reference Check?

A reference check involves contacting a candidate’s listed references—usually former supervisors, colleagues, or even direct reports—to learn more about their past employment and gain insights into their work and character. 

Asking targeted reference check questions enables an employer to get a more complete picture of a candidate’s career and experience. In addition to providing more information on job-related skills and projects, reference checks can also help employers understand a candidate’s character traits, work ethic, and interpersonal dynamics. Adding this context can often help employers make not just informed but well-rounded hiring decisions.

Why Employers Should Check References

Conducting employment reference checks helps add depth to an employer’s impression of a candidate. They’re often considered an important part of the background check process, giving hiring managers important historical information about a candidate’s prior work experiences. A consistent reference-checking process can result in more successful hires, improved employee retention, and a healthy work environment.

The questions for reference checks usually serve two primary purposes. First, they can help employers fact-check and learn more about the details a candidate has shared about their past positions. Employers can double-check their understanding of a candidate’s professional responsibilities and successes as disclosed in a resume or interview.

Second, employment reference check questions can explore additional topics that are more subjective and broad. An excellent reference check will piece together a picture of the candidate’s abilities, character traits, opportunities for growth, and biggest strengths. Gaining a better understanding of these facts can help confirm compatibility with the organization’s work environment and job requirements.

Top 10 Questions To Ask When Checking References

Asking the right questions for reference checks brings forth the most accurate information about job candidates. Choosing questions that align with your organization and provide insights into potential hires’ professional skills and interpersonal conduct is the foundation of running meaningful reference checks. 

Here are ten of the best reference questions for new hires:

  1. Could you confirm the job title, responsibilities, and duration of employment of the candidate? 
    This is a straightforward, objective question to start the conversation.
  1. How would you describe the quality and consistency of the candidate’s work? 
    An open-ended question like this can give you an understanding of the day-to-day competency level of the candidate and be a helpful overview towards the beginning of your reference check.
  1. Can you highlight the areas where the candidate could improve their professional performance?
    Underscoring the candidate’s areas for growth and improvement paints a balanced view of their work performance.
  1. If the opportunity came up, would you rehire this candidate? 
    An affirmative answer speaks to the candidate’s standing with former employers or coworkers.
  1. What has been the candidate’s response to feedback and critique? 
    This tells you about the candidate’s ability to grow, adapt, and welcome input from colleagues on projects and practices.
  1. Could you give examples of the candidate’s teamwork and collaboration skills? 
    Information about group dynamics and team participation are critical insights for any position where the candidate will interact with coworkers or customers.
  1. Why did the candidate leave their previous employment?
    Contextual information about their departure from a prior position could warn you of potential red flags and provide important context for their employment history.
  1. How successful was the candidate in fulfilling personal tasks and contributing to team goals? 
    Ask this question to get a look into the candidate’s dependability and commitment to achieving both individual and group objectives.
  1. Can you share instances where the candidate was faced with a significant challenge? What were the outcomes?
    This question can help measure the candidate’s resilience and problem-solving skills, which could be particularly relevant in a fast-paced work environment or even a customer-facing role where the ability to deliver excellent service is vital.
  1. Can the candidate be relied upon to complete tasks independently, or do they work better with specific direction from a supervisor? 
    This helps you gauge how the candidate may work within your team and can be valuable information based on the requirements of the specific role.

Tips When Checking References

When deciding which questions to ask references when hiring someone, following a set of well-defined, best practice guidelines will help you conduct an effective reference check. 

Here are some tips on how to choose what to ask when calling references:

Consider compliance 

Familiarize yourself with all local, state, and federal regulations regarding discrimination and bias during hiring when formulating and asking questions for reference checks. 

Respect confidentiality

Prioritize the candidate’s privacy and protect yourself from liability by seeking their permission before reaching out to their references.

Maintain consistency 

Establish a template of reference check questions and ensure all members of your hiring team use them to ensure an unbiased approach to each candidate. 

Ask for clarity 

When a response is incomplete or unclear, don’t hesitate to seek clarification or more information. Ask follow-up questions in the moment and give the person an opportunity to volunteer more insights.

Order Reference Checks Today

Reference checks, when conducted with purpose and consistency, can help you make the best recruitment decisions. However, managing comprehensive reference checks and staying up-to-date with changing compliance regulations can be time-consuming for your human resources team. 

GoodHire offers professional reference checks that help you hire the best candidates for your organization. Our dedicated team asks in-depth, open-ended questions by phone with candidates’ references, then passes on all the information we gather to you. This lets you make informed hiring decisions—without draining your time or resources. Place confidence and convenience at the core of your recruitment strategy, and get started today.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

As GoodHire’s managing editor, Sara Korolevich produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.