Sample Reference Checklist (With Template)

Illustration of man typing reference letter.Text reads:

Verifying job application and interview information helps you ensure applicants provide accurate qualifications, references and experience. While some businesses request reference letters, many simply ask for a list of references to call if the applicant is a top choice. Use this employee reference form template and example to create an employee reference checklist for your company.
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What is an employee reference checklist?

An employee reference checklist is a form used when checking references for a potential hire. It helps you prescreen potential employees by verifying the information they provide on applications and in interviews. The standardized form makes it easy to ask all references the same questions, and you can customize the reference checking forms to ask questions relevant to your business.

How do reference checks work?

Reference checks are part of the hiring and recruiting process and take place just before a job offer. Most companies ask applicants to provide reference contact information on the application, but they only contact references for the selected candidate. Some companies might contact references for all candidates who interview to help choose. You can customize the questions you ask during the reference check, which you might conduct through a phone call, email, mail or online.

What to include in a reference checklist

Reference checklists verify if the information provided by the applicant is accurate. They contain requests for information, such as:

  • Dates of employment
  • Hours worked per pay period
  • Overall job performance
  • Job duties
  • Rehire status
  • Promotions
  • Social skills
  • Absenteeism
  • Salary
  • Reason for departure

How to create a reference checklist

Use these steps to create a new reference checklist form.

1. Choose format

Use hard and digital copies, which can be distributed according to the respondent’s needs. Forms that are mailed or emailed often include a short letter explaining the checklist, while checklists intended for phone use may not.

2. List general contact information

Decide which information you need from the respondent. Usually, this will include their name, relationship to the applicant and contact phone number or email. Include this information at the top of the checklist. Many companies also ask how long the respondent has known the applicant.

3. Write job experience questions

Cover all aspects of the applicant’s work history for verification, including the length of time at the previous company and the applicant’s demeanor on the job.

4. Write instructions for respondent

If needed, write any instructions for the respondent. Give the respondent:

  • A brief letter of introduction
  • Contact information for questions
  • A return-by date — if the form is submitted through the mail, give the respondent a week or so to return the form

5. Create the form

The structure of the form will differ by phone, mail and email.

  • Responding by phone: Create a PDF with fields that can be filled in. The person conducting the phone call will benefit from a short script to introduce themselves to the respondent.
  • Responding by mail: Reference checklists should be no longer than one page and include a brief letter of introduction. Leave space below each question for the respondent to write their answer.
  • Responding by email: Send a link to an online form through email. Many online services build forms that populate an easy-to-review spreadsheet. Include an introductory paragraph in the body of the email before the link to the online reference checklist form.

Reference form template

Here is a reference checklist template you can use to structure your reference checklist form:
Dear [reference],
[Applicant] has applied to work at [company] as a [job title] and listed you as a reference for [former job title/company].
Please complete this reference checklist form by [date]. Answer the questions truthfully and feel free to reach out with any additional questions, comments or concerns. We appreciate your time.
[your name]
[your position]

  • Name:
  • Relationship to the applicant:
  • Contact information:
  • Did the applicant work at this company?
  • Dates of employment:
  • What were the applicant’s primary job duties?
  • How would you rate the applicant’s job performance?
  • How would you rate the applicant’s interpersonal skills?
  • How would you rate the applicant’s attendance at work?
  • Why did the applicant leave the company?
  • Would you rehire this applicant?
  • Is there anything else we should know?

13 other questions to consider for a reference form

Here are additional questions to consider for your reference forms:

  1. Was the applicant dependable?
  2. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  3. How well did they take direction and feedback?
  4. Did they have any behaviors or habits that got in the way of their work?
  5. How well did the applicant handle stressful situations?
  6. What was a major accomplishment the candidate had with your company?
  7. What skills do you think the candidate could use to improve their performance?
  8. What type of environment does the applicant thrive in?
  9. Do you think the candidate can handle the position we have open?
  10. What would I need to know about the applicant to manage them well?
  11. Is there anyone else you feel I should contact about the applicant?
  12. Was the applicant stronger working alone or working as part of a team?
  13. Did they earn any promotions while working for you?

Reference form checklist FAQs

Here are answers to commonly asked questions about references forms.

How many questions should I include in the reference checklist?

Five to 10 questions are ideal for an employee reference checklist. The questions should be answerable in a few words or a short sentence so that the respondent can complete the reference forms quickly.

What is the best way to contact references?

Some companies prefer calling references while others prefer a hard copy or digital form. Generally, calling references yields a higher return, but it can take more time than simply mailing or emailing respondents.

Can I automate the reference check system?

The process can easily be automated. Some companies email references with links to an online internal reference checklist. Others outsource to third-party companies that create individualized forms, contact the references, gather the responses and follow up as needed.

When should I contact an applicant’s references?

Most often, employers check references as the last step in the hiring process after successful recruiting and interviewing. Sometimes, employers use reference checks as a deciding factor between two or three qualified candidates. Occasionally, an employer will contact every applicant’s references.

Should I check references on every new hire?

While you don’t have to check references using a reference form template for anyone, it’s a good idea to do it for all new hires before offering the job. It can help you avoid hiring someone who exaggerated their experience or isn’t a good culture add for your company.

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