Reference Check Questions

Discover common reference check questions for new hires.

Reference Check

June 5th, 2019

Reference check questions are questions that employers ask of candidates' former supervisors to confirm details of previous positions and learn more about the candidate. They are an essential part of the hiring process.

The reference check questions we've provided below are written to be as open-ended as possible so that you're not feeding references the answers, but allowing them to independently confirm the information you have. We've also included a free email template download with questions that you can use when contacting a job applicant's references.

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Reference Check Questions Email Template

Download our free reference check email template in Microsoft Word format.

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10 Common Reference Check Questions:

  1. How do you know the job candidate?
  2. Would you hire this person to work for you?
  3. What were the performance strengths of the candidate?
  4. What were the performance weaknesses of the candidate?
  5. What were their day-to-day duties?
  6. Did the candidate maintain their work schedule effectively?
  7. How long was the candidate in your employment?
  8. What did you like about working with this person?
  9. Is there anything unique that I should know about this candidate?
  10. How would you summarize this candidate in terms of their commitment to work?

Keep in mind that the questions you ask can only go so far because most previous employers and professional references aren’t going to say anything that could potentially get them into legal trouble. Despite this issue, you can learn a lot from uncomfortable pauses and overly generic responses.

Also, remember that the supervisor you call is likely to be busy, and may not have all the details of the candidate's employment at their fingertips. There may be some discrepancies in the information they give you, but it doesn't necessarily mean that your candidate lied.

Tips for Checking References:

1. Ask for business and cell phone numbers.

While a cell number might be best for actually reaching someone, their business number is better for confirming that the reference really works at a company. Ask candidates to give a business line for each reference, and offer to let them include the reference’s cell number as well. Google the business number and make sure it’s connected to the company in question.

2. Call the business number, even if you have the cell number.

Even if you know the previous supervisor or human resources manager isn’t going to be in the office, call their business number. This way you can confirm that they really work there before calling their business phone.

3. Use LinkedIn to research references.

Did you only receive a cell number or an email address? Head to LinkedIn to confirm the reference. A quick search on LinkedIn should help you determine with a higher level of certainty whether or not the reference is legitimate.

4. Send a warm-up email or a LinkedIn InMail.

Don't just cold call references and interrupt their day. Try emailing them or contacting them through LinkedIn's email service. You can use a tool like Calendly to make it easy for them to schedule a time with you.

5. Take notes on your reference calls.

Ideally, you keep all your notes together on each candidate - everything from what happens in interviews to references. It makes it easy to sit down and review the whole picture before making a final decision, and helps make sure you remember everything you should be taking into account.

6. Don't just talk to managers and supervisors.

Try getting the thoughts of their peers too. It'll help you get a broader picture of the candidate, and what they're like to work with.


Sample Reference Check Questions

Do you have samples of reference check questions?

  • What is your relationship to the candidate?
  • When did they start in this position?
  • What were their day-to-day duties?
  • What was their starting and ending position?
  • Did they ever have attendance issues?
  • Did they ever have performance issues that required disciplinary action?
  • Would you hire them for this position again?
How To Respond To A Reference Request

How should I conduct reference checks?

  • Research the references on Google and LinkedIn.
  • Decide what questions you have that references can answer.
  • Contact references and arrange a time to talk.
  • Set a positive tone about the candidate.
  • Focus and listen closely.
  • Take notes on the conversation.
  • Ask open-ended questions.

Should everyone use employment reference check questions?

A reference check is one of the best ways to learn more about a candidate. Lots of people can look good on paper, but what other people say about them will tell you the real story.

What if there are no references on a candidate's resume?

If there are no references, ask the job applicant to provide some for you. References are a very common expectation, so most applicants should be more than willing to provide you with some. On the other hand, if a job applicant is hesitant to offer references, it may be a red flag.

How many references should a job applicant provide?

You can set your own standard, but typically employers ask for 2-3 professional references.

Reference checks are 100% legal. However, the reference must consent to provide information about the job applicant in question.

Are reference checks valuable?

Yes. At the final stage of the hiring process, a reference check is an opportunity for the employer to verify the candidate's work experience, qualifications, how their peers view them, and whether or not they fit in with the company culture.

What questions do employers ask references?

See 10 common reference check questions above.

What questions should I ask a personal reference?

  • What is your relationship to the candidate?
  • What are the candidate's biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  • Did the candidate meet their job expectations?
  • Does the candidate always show up on time?
  • Would you rehire the candidate?

Download a free reference check questions template.