The Best Questions to Ask During a Background Reference Check

     
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After a long and hard search, you’ve finally found someone you believe is the ideal candidate. He/she has all the right experience. He/she is articulate and personable. He/she is well groomed and presents a thoroughly professional appearance. He/she even graduated from the same university as you/shares your love on hobbies and grew up in your neighborhood. What luck! You can’t wait to make the offer and get this rock star on board.

But hold on a minute, now. Don’t forget the reference check! A comprehensive reference check is crucial to your hiring process. And while some believe checking references is a complete waste of time, nothing could be further from the truth. Checking references is necessary due diligence.

So why do so many fail to get it right? How do the resume fakers, education embellishers, and job fabricators blaze past the gatekeepers and straight into (in some cases) the corner office?

Fortunately, our list of top questions to ask during the reference check ensures you won’t have to find out.

Best Reference Check Questions

“Jane indicated she worked for you from X to X and her job title was X. Can you please confirm?”

A key part of the reference check is simply verifying basic information provided to you by the candidate, such as hire and termination dates and job title. If the candidate fudged here, there’s no telling where else she “fudged.”

“Was Jane punctual? Were there any issues with lateness or absenteeism?”

No matter how high-level the job, an essential function is showing up. A leader who’s unable to guide and mentor staff as needed is just as troublesome as an individual contributor who can’t be depended on to arrive at work regularly and on time.

“What were Jane’s job achievement?”

Again, a key point of the reference check is verifying what the candidate achieved. Jane’s fantastic job experience is of no value to you if she was just a poor performer.

“The top competencies for this job are X, Y, and Z. How would you rate Jane in each of these areas?”

Along with cultural fit, assessing competency fit is very important. Jane could be a fabulous human being, but if she doesn’t possess the competencies for the job, she’s not a good match for it.

“What are Jane’s strengths? What are her areas for development?”

Nobody is perfect, and that includes Jane. But it’s okay. Jane doesn’t have to be perfect. Jane just needs to be able to do the job, and you need as much information as you can get about Jane’s capabilities. This question will help you do that while also getting you started on creating a developmental plan for your new employee (should you decide to hire her, of course).

“How should I manage Jane to get top performance?”

The answer will give you a good idea of the managerial style your candidate responds to best and whether that style is compatible with yours.

“If I were to hire Jane, what advice would you give me?”

This question is wide open and the employer’s chance to say whatever he or she pleases about Jane. The choice will give you a pretty good idea of Jane’s standing with the employer as well as the employer’s overall opinion of Jane.

The reference check is a critical tool for determining candidate appropriateness, but only if you ask the right questions and take into account the answers. Also, don’t hesitate to circle back to the candidate and follow up on anything you’ve heard that requires further clarification.

Finally, while it’s common practice to conduct reference checks post-offer and as a condition of employment, we don’t recommend that practice. Instead, check the references of all your top picks, and you’ll gather insights across candidates that will help you narrow down your list. With automated reference checking software, this can be done easily and in a fraction of the time it would normally take and often surprisingly will give more insights.

What are some other questions you have used or would recommend during a background reference check?

Passive Candidates Guide

About The Author

Yves Lermusi (aka Lermusiaux) is CEO & co-founder of Checkster. Mr. Lermusi is a well known public speaker and a Career and Talent industry commentator. He is often quoted in the leading business media worldwide, including Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Business Week, and Time Magazine. His articles and commentary are published regularly in online publications and business magazines. Mr. Lermusi was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the Recruiting Industry” and his blog has been recognized as the best third party blog.