Reference checks: 10 questions you need to be asking


Picking up the phone to speak with a former employer for a verbal reference check will offer tremendously useful insights that can make or break the hiring decision.

In a time-poor workplace, you may be rushed for time – or be distracted as the reference check call progresses. To glean the most information from a referee, be sure to have our list of reference check questions on hand to remain focused.

How to structure your reference check

Begin with a few basic questions about the candidate’s employment history. Any reference check call should start easy and progress to more in-depth questions.

Kick start the reference check call with a few basic questions like:

1. How long did the candidate work for your organisation?

2. What did the candidate’s role involve?

3. What remuneration did the candidate receive in terms of salary, bonus and overtime payments or other incentives?

4. Can you recall where the candidate worked prior to joining your business?

Now move on to more complex reference check issues. The questions you need to pose are tough but the responses will give you greater insights about the candidate:

5. How does the candidate compare to the person doing the job now? Be prepared to tease out further information if the referee offers simple ‘better’ or ‘worse’ responses.

6. What would you say are some of the candidate’s weaknesses and strengths?

7. In a typical month, how often was the candidate absent from work?

8. Where there any sorts of people the candidate struggled to work with?

9. Was the candidate prepared to take additional steps to complete urgent tasks?

10. Would you rehire the candidate in the future?

These reference check questions are an important starting point and a guideline for you to work from. As you progress through the conversation you are likely to have other questions to ask but this list will help you stay on track. The key point is that the more information you have, the better you are positioned to decide whether the candidate is right for your team.

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