11 Tips for Checking References (With Sample Questions)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 8, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Checking references is an important part of the hiring process. It gives you the opportunity to verify facts about a candidate that you are strongly considering, while also learning more about them from someone in a professional setting. Preparing for your meeting with a candidate's references can help ensure that you ask the most informative questions. In this article, we discuss the importance of checking references, as well as tips that you can use to prepare for an upcoming reference check.

Why is it important to check references?

Checking references is sometimes considered a formality. But, because it gives you the chance to learn more about a candidate's professional experience and skills, it can help you confirm that you have chosen the right candidate for the position.

Choosing the right candidates from the beginning can help you fill the needs of an open position. By ensuring a good fit, both for the company and the employee, you can also reduce retention rates, which can be costly and time-consuming to a business. The reference check is often the last step in the hiring process, so preparing your questions in a way that helps you determine if they will be a good fit can be useful. It can also help you narrow down your options, helping you choose the employee that fits best in the open position.

Related: Reference Letters vs. Recommendation Letters

11 Tips for checking references

To get the most out of your reference appointment, it is best to prepare for it ahead of time. You may only get one meeting with each reference. Here are a few tips that you can use when checking references:

  1. Let the candidate know that you will check their references: It is always a good idea to let candidates know that you intend on calling their references. Informing them early ensures they give truthful answers during the interview.

  2. Schedule an appointment with the reference: By scheduling an appointment with the reference ahead of time, you ensure that they have sufficient time to talk with you. They are also more likely to be in a quiet environment where they can really focus on your questions. If you don't schedule a time to talk, they may be too busy when you call to go into detail about the candidate.

  3. Provide background on why you are calling: Always let the reference know why you are calling, what company you work for and the position that the candidate is applying for. This can provide you with open feedback on how the reference believes the candidate will fit in with the company, or how they will adjust to the specific position.

  4. Verify information at the beginning of the call: Get the formalities out of the way early. Verifying information like, employment dates and positions held, at the beginning of the call allows you to move on to other questions sooner.

  5. Prepare questions ahead of time: Prepare your questions ahead of time so you know how much time you need and so that you don't miss any important points. It can also be helpful to consider the specific duties of the role in which the person is applying. Talk with the department they will work in to learn the most important aspects of the job from their potential manager.

  6. Use open-ended questions: Open-ended questions prompt the reference to provide more information. Closed-ended questions tend to lead to 'yes' or 'no' answers, which can leave you with more questions about a candidate's abilities.

  7. Ask questions that are specifically related to the role: By catering your questions to include specific requirements or necessary skills of the position, you can learn more about how they will do in that specific position. Otherwise, you may get information about the candidate that is not completely relevant to the work they will be doing.

  8. Use the candidate's responses: Taking notes when interviewing can help you come up with useful questions to ask when checking references. If a candidate discusses a specific experience while working on a project, you might use this to learn more about them when talking with their employer.

  9. Record your phone calls: Recording your reference calls allows you to go back to them later to review for any key points you might have missed. However, be sure to always request permission and notify them before recording.

  10. Request to speak with the candidate's direct supervisor or manager: Many reference meetings are taken by the human resource manager. While they can verify employment dates and positions, they may not be as knowledgeable when it comes to the candidate's skills or work experiences.

  11. Ask a variety of questions: While verifying information and determining a candidate's ability to do a job is important, it is also useful to ask a variety of questions that will help you evaluate how well they will fit in with the company's culture.

Related: How To Prepare for an Informal Interview

Example questions to ask references

The specific questions that you ask a reference may vary, depending on the open position and the qualifications of the candidate. Here are a few questions that you may ask references to learn more about a candidate:

Can you verify the employment, job title and responsibilities that the candidate had while working with you?

This question verifies important details, such as when the candidate worked for the company and for how long. This allows you to compare the information given on the resume and during the interview to the candidate's actual history.

Related: What Is an Employment Verification Letter? (With Examples and Templates)

In what capacity did you work with the applicant?

It can also be helpful to learn what type of working relationship the reference check had with the applicant. Some applicants may list coworkers or a supervisor as their reference, which can affect the type of questions you ask.

Related: Reference Check Questions: What To Expect

The candidate tells me that he was a top performer on your team. What would you say were his top skills or contributions to the position?

This question gives you more insight into an applicant's teamwork skills, as well as their strengths. It also allows the reference to offer their own details or measurement of their performance.

Would you rehire the candidate if you had the opportunity? Why or why not?

This question can give you insight into the terms in which the candidate left the position. You can learn a lot about a candidate when discussing their likeliness of returning to a previous employer.

We are considering this candidate for a position in sales. Would you recommend them for this type of position?

This gives you more in-depth information about a candidate's ability to do a specific job. It also draws on the recommendation of a previous employer who may be more familiar with the candidate's sales skills.

Is there anyone else that you would suggest I speak with regarding the applicant's time with the company?

Applicants are likely to write down references who will give them the best reviews. Check with the references if they believe that you should talk with anyone else the candidate might have worked with professionally, before offering them the position.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate?

It can be useful to compare the candidate's listed strengths and weaknesses given during the interview, with the ones listed by their previous employer. This can help you measure how insightful the candidate is when it comes to their own skills.

Is there anything else that I should know about the applicant before making my hiring decision?

If you are limited on time, you may not get to all the questions you have. This gives the references the opportunity to share any other details or concerns they might have about the candidate.

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