Good reference check questions help you understand candidates competencies more deeply and verify the claims that candidates make in the interview.
The best questions to ask references explore knowledge that only the candidate's reference possesses and uncover key insights into how a candidate will perform in the role you’re hiring for.
Whether you’re speaking with a candidate’s manager or reporting employee, you should strategically adapt the questions you ask to hone in on the specialized knowledge they have on your candidate.
You can use these examples to choose the best questions to ask a reference when evaluating candidates for your next open job.
Best Reference Check Questions to Start With
- What is your company’s policy in regards to references and what information are you allowed to give me about the candidate?
- If you can’t give me any information, are there any former employees you know who had a close working relationship with the candidate?
- Can you verify the details of the candidate's employment (start and end dates, salary, position, etc.)?
- What is your professional relationship to the candidate and how did it begin?
Best Reference Check Questions to Vet References
- How long have you worked in your current role at your company?
- How long did you work with the candidate and what positions did you hold while your worked with the candidate?
- Is there any reason that I should be speaking to another reference? For example, if there was a personal conflict that took place between you and the candidate?
Best Reference Check Questions to Understand Candidate Performance
- What roles did the candidate hold at your company? Where did they begin and where did they end up?
- What are the most challenging aspects of the role that the candidate held and the work that the candidate did at your company?
- How did they meet the challenges of the role and manage the pressure of the job?
- What were the candidate’s responsibilities while working at the role(s) at your company and how did these responsibilities change over time?
- What are the candidate’s professional strengths and how were they an asset for their team and your company?
- Do you think that the candidate has any challenges or shortcomings at work or any areas that should be improved?
- Do you believe that the candidate is qualified for the job they are applying for at my company? What, specifically, qualifies or disqualifies them?
Best Reference Check Questions for the Candidate’s Manager
- How long were you the candidate’s manager and were you their direct manager?
- What were the easiest and most challenging aspects of managing this candidate?
- How did the candidate grow personally or professionally while you were their manager?
- What advice would you give for successfully managing this candidate on the job?
Best Reference Check Questions for the Candidate’s Reporting Employees
- How long was the candidate your manager and which role did you hold while they were your manager?
- What were the easiest and most challenging aspects of being managed by the candidate?
- How did you grow personally or professionally through the candidate’s management and mentorship?
- What advice would you give to the candidate for more effectively managing employees?
Best Reference Check Questions for the Candidate’s Coworkers
- How long were you a coworker of the candidate and which role did you hold while you were their coworker?
- What were the easiest and most challenging aspects of working directly with the candidate?
- How did working with the candidate help you to grow personally and professionally?
- How did the candidate support you and other coworkers while on the job?
- What advice would you give the candidate’s future coworkers for working effectively with the candidate?
Best Reference Check Questions to Vet Candidate Behavior and Ethics
- Why did the candidate leave the company?
- Were there any workplace conduct or ethical incidents caused by this candidate when they worked for your company?
- Is the candidate eligible to be re-hired and would you re-hire them? Why or why not?
Best Way to Standardize Reference Check Questions
The best questions to ask are the questions that lead to the highest quality hire. Checkster’s digital platform provides templates of reference questions that are validated by independent I/O psychologists and found to be accurate predictors of performance and turnover.
It’s also important to note that inconsistencies in reference questions asked can lead to inconsistent feedback. Checkster's reference checking service can be used to customize and then standardize questions across all reference checks, even across the company. It’s an easy way to ensure recruiters are remaining compliant and legal with all questions asked by administering our set digital questionnaires.
Finally, do you get answers to all your questions when you ask them via phone? How candid is the feedback? Too often, references are reticent to open up and supply short, trivial answers. Consider using an automated reference checking tool like Checkster to gather much more detailed, honest feedback about candidates. Compared to the 2 responses on average you’ll get from the phone (after over an hour of chasing them down), Checkster sees an average of 6 responses (with only 2 minutes of time from the recruiter), and compiles that feedback into actionable, easy-to-read reports.