40+ Essential Reference Check Questions For Employers

Candidates will always try to present themselves in the best possible light when hiring. They are frequently urged to exaggerate or praise their achievements during job interviews.

While it’s understandable for job seekers to want to impress potential employers, how can recruiters and hiring managers determine whether the applicant will benefit the organization?

Here is where the reference check is worthwhile. As a hiring manager or recruiter, you should know the best practices for reference checks and the particular questions you should ask to understand better the applicant and how well they might fit your business.

How Do Reference Checks Work? What Are They?

When evaluating a particular candidate, reference checks offer a second opinion. By contacting the candidate’s former employers, coworkers, and educators (also referred to as their “references”), they enable you to delve deeper.

A reference check typically takes place in the later stages of the interview process when you’re considering seriously hiring a candidate.

It might entail contacting the candidates’ references to confirm their prior employment and learn more about their knowledge, skills, and character.

While not all employers will check references, many will — frequently depending on company policies or the industry.

For instance, the high-stakes nature of their jobs may make employers in the financial, healthcare, or manufacturing sectors more likely to check references on prospective employees.

The information you obtain when contacting the candidate’s references will not be objective. Asking for concerns about details like a candidate’s experiences working with others can reveal a lot about their character and working style, though, about your potential hire.

When to use these questions

Utilize these examples of employment reference check questions during the hiring process to get feedback on the prior work performance of your candidates from former employers and coworkers.

Why Is It Important?

On their resumes and in interviews, candidates make a good impression. Consider requesting references from previous employers, coworkers, and business partners (e.g., clients. ) You can learn more factual details about a candidate’s performance from their concerns.

Conduct it for 

  • Ensure the information you are receiving is accurate. Verify information on a resume, including employment dates, jobs, job titles, and responsibilities.
  • Learn about the candidates’ prior employment history. Learn firsthand from professionals who have previously collaborated with candidates how they apply their skills on the job.
  • Learn about the candidates’ interpersonal skills. Check references to learn how potential employees interact with supervisors, coworkers, subordinates, and clients.
  • Checking references can reveal prior activities. Make a more knowledgeable hiring decision by using this information.

The Best Way To Check References 

  • Before making a job offer to a potential new hire, use reference checks during the last hiring stage. Ask the same questions of all shortlisted candidates’ references to be more impartial in your hiring process.
  • Regarding your position, evaluate the information you learn from reference checks. If a candidate needs a nice-to-have ability that is not one of your essential requirements, you shouldn’t panic. However, traits like dependability and effective communication are crucial for most positions.
  • Candidates should be told that references will be checked in advance. You can make that clear in your job posting and request references after the screening process of applicants.
  • Ask specific questions based on the interaction the person you’re speaking to had with the candidate. An ex-employer, for instance, could provide detailed feedback on the candidate’s performance on the job. In contrast, an ex-coworker could offer insight into the candidate’s ability to work well with others.
  • Discuss any minor discrepancies you find with the applicant if you find them during a reference check. An incorrect employment date, for instance, might be a typo on the candidate’s resume.

Background Checks Reveal Red Flags.

Unfavorable remarks

 You should carefully consider any unfavorable references’ comments regarding a candidate’s work performance before hiring them. Candidates typically offer a list of references they are confident will speak well of them.

Not being specific enough. 

References will likely give you an overly favorable review. After all, the candidate relies on these individuals to speak highly of them in a job interview. When someone is overselling, demand details. There may need to be more experience to learn from if former employers or coworkers cannot provide work experiences to support their claims or list any areas for improvement.

Unpredictability in the facts.

Little errors (e.g., g. (Exact date of employment) may not be cause for concern. But if you discover that a candidate is lying about more significant matters, like the extent of their responsibilities, take that as a red flag about their dependability.

Difficulties Encountered During Reference Checking 

Lack of faith 

Some people might be reluctant to reveal information about a former coworker. They should be reassured that the call is private and that the purpose is to learn more about the applicant.

Inadequate time 

Former employers and coworkers might have little time to respond to your inquiries. Therefore, keep reference check calls brief, at most 10 to 15 minutes. Or suggest coordinating by email.

Absence of objectivity 

Some employers might harbor resentment toward workers who leave their company. Alternatively, if their collaboration went well, others might exaggerate their skills. Ask for concrete examples of the employee’s work performance and conduct in the workplace to lessen bias.

Advice on how to check references.

Informing candidates that you check references, not delegating reference checks, taking thorough notes, conducting the reference check over the phone, starting with simple inquiries, verifying employment dates and work histories, reviewing social media posts, not asking closed-ended questions, assuring the reference of confidentiality, and keeping an eye out for phony contacts are all best practices.

Let the applicants know in advance that references will be checked.

Be upfront about the reference check, and your candidate list shrinks.

The interviewees will typically be more truthful and accurate. Include this advice in the knowledge base and best practices you use as a guide.

Don’t let someone else handle the reference check.

Due to our busy schedules, giving HR the task of checking references from previous employers may seem insignificant, but this could be a significant error.

No one will ask the same questions quite the same way you would because only you know precisely what you are looking for in an employee.

It could be a casual comment about the applicant that indicates something that conflicts with the culture of your business.

Something you might have overlooked if someone else had carried out the expert reference check.

Call the references on the phone.

When checking references for prior employment history, pick up the phone. When using email, you must catch up on tone and inflection and are more likely to misinterpret content.

Additionally, you risk missing out on warning signs that a phone call can only reveal. Because they don’t want liability issues, references are unlikely to say anything unfavorable about a candidate in writing.

Additionally, it can be challenging to tell when someone is enthusiastic, and reading an email response makes it impossible to detect hesitation.

Review the posts and content on social media.

This is another reference check you should conduct as part of your due diligence. Examining publicly accessible Facebook posts and Twitter feeds may reveal enlightening details about the candidate.

Additionally, look at their LinkedIn profile to see if there are any recommendations or discrepancies with their resume. You can also see if they have any mutual contacts in the business world, as these may give you access to more references.

Refrain from dismissing them as a bother; take the time to check references.

If you choose the wrong candidate for your position, you might discover the hard way that a few phone calls could make all the difference. This reference checklist should be helpful too.

Avert fake references at all costs.

Candidates who have ruined relationships with previous employers at previous jobs or who have a poor attitude and work ethic frequently give false managerial references using a former colleague or a list of references with incomplete or erroneous contact details.

Verify the reference’s title, full name, the company they worked for together during the time they worked for the company, the dates they worked together, and whether they were the candidate’s direct supervisor when speaking with the reference’s previous supervisor. Accurate references are crucial, so it’s vital to get honest ones.

Reference Check Questions With Answers

What Inquiries To Make When Checking References?

Being both specific and open-ended is a skill in reference check question writing. A simple “yes” or “no” response to a question is preferable. Refrain from fact-checking the candidate’s resume or asking a general question like, “How was it to work with this candidate? ” 

Try these queries instead for deeper discussions regarding candidates.

What are some potential growth areas for this applicant?

It may be awkward for the reference to be asked to list a candidate’s weaknesses; no one wants to feel they are endangering a colleague’s future employment. This rephrases the standard question, “What are the candidate’s weaknesses?”. 

Could you elaborate on your working arrangement with the candidate?

This simple question accomplishes several goals. It also clarifies the candidate’s relationship with the reference and gives you more information about how frequently or closely the candidate worked with them.

For instance, if you find out that one reference didn’t collaborate closely with the candidate, you might pay closer attention to the responses from a different connection who did.

What are two or three of this candidate’s strong points?

This question gives you a better idea of the candidate’s strengths and is simple to tailor to the position you’re trying to fill.

For instance, if you’re hiring for a job that requires a lot of cross-functional cooperation, you can ask the reference to list some qualities that make the candidate a good collaborator.

If you’re considering the candidate for a managerial position, you can also ask them to list two or three qualities that make them great leaders.

Why did this candidate leave your business?

This question checks whether the candidate is telling the truth and hasn’t omitted any vital information about an apparent departure-related incident.

Watch out for vagueness in the reference or for information that might line up differently from what the candidate has stated.

What would you say about the candidate’s working demeanor?

You can learn more about the candidate’s fit with the team by asking them this question. Suppose the candidate is described as someone who prefers to think through problems independently before coming up with a solution.

In that case, that information can be helpful to consider when analyzing team dynamics. The team members may benefit from brainstorming ideas with one another in meetings.

Have you ever seen this candidate perform a similar role? What qualifications will this candidate possess to help them succeed in this position?

This is an excellent question to bring up shortly after introducing the position you’re hiring for and the specific qualifications you seek in a candidate.

You can increase your chances of gaining valuable insight into the candidate’s work and how that experience has prepared them for this role by outlining the job to the reference and clarifying what you’re looking for.

Which of this candidate’s accomplishments from your time working with them stands out?

This question ideally elicits a compelling account of the candidate’s achievements in a previous position. It can highlight a candidate’s accomplishments if they are overstating their contribution to a project or are being overly modest.

Why or why not would you suggest this applicant for the position?

This is a great question to ask as your last one because it can be conducive to learning more specific details if the reference was evasive or hazy during the interview.

List of Reference Check Questions

  • Can you tell me about the candidate’s job responsibilities and duties?
  • How did the candidate handle stressful situations at work?
  • Did the candidate meet performance goals and expectations?
  • What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Can you describe the candidate’s work ethic?
  • How did the candidate interact with colleagues and management?
  • Did the candidate demonstrate good communication skills?
  • How did the candidate handle conflict or difficult situations?
  • Can you provide an example of a project the candidate worked on and their role?
  • What was the candidate’s attendance and punctuality like?
  • How did the candidate adapt to changes in the workplace?
  • Did the candidate receive any awards or recognition while working with you?
  • What skills or knowledge did the candidate bring to the job?
  • How did the candidate handle constructive criticism?
  • Was the candidate reliable and trustworthy?
  • How did the candidate handle feedback and coaching?
  • Did the candidate demonstrate a positive attitude at work?
  • Can you describe the candidate’s problem-solving abilities?
  • How did the candidate handle a difficult customer or client?
  • Was the candidate a good team player?
  • Can you describe the candidate’s attention to detail?
  • How did the candidate handle tight deadlines?
  • Did the candidate show a willingness to learn and grow professionally?
  • Can you describe the candidate’s decision-making abilities?
  • How did the candidate handle a mistake or error at work?
  • Was the candidate able to prioritize tasks effectively?
  • Can you describe the candidate’s interpersonal skills?
  • How did the candidate handle pressure and workloads?
  • Did the candidate leave their previous role on good terms?
List Of Reference Check Questions


Checking references is an excellent way for hiring professionals to ensure a candidate is a good fit and discover more about what they’ll bring.

You can successfully make the right hires for your organization and improve collaboration, performance, and retention, all while bolstering your company culture if you have mastered the art of conducting adequate reference checks.

Background checks are a crucial component of the hiring process. Background checks confirm the accuracy of the information provided by the applicant, guarantee that the position’s requirements have been met, and ensure that a credit and criminal history are disclosed openly.

The background check elements mentioned above can differ depending on the position and should only be used for some applicants.

Reference Check Questions For Employers

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