Maximizing Reference Checks: 24 Questions You Should Be Asking

Written by

Lisa Gonzalez

· Last updated on

July 16, 2023

You've just hired a new employee. Their resume was impressive, the interview went smoothly, and you're confident about your decision. But a few weeks down the line, you realize they're not quite the perfect fit you'd imagined. Sound familiar?

Don’t worry, you're not alone. This scenario is more common than you might think and often stems from an untapped tool in the hiring repertoire: reference checks.

These aren't just casual chats with a candidate's previous employers or colleagues. No, these are treasure troves of insights, steering you toward making the right hiring decisions for your business.

In this article, we'll deep-dive into the world of reference checks. What are they? Why are they a game-changer? And the top 24 questions you should be asking. So, whether you're a seasoned hiring manager or just getting started, here at Jobspage, we've got your back. Let’s go!

What is a reference check?

Before we plunge into successful reference checking, let's ensure we're all on the same page. A reference check is an integral part of the talent sourcing process, where potential employers contact a job candidate's former employers, colleagues, or mentors to learn more about their performance, capabilities, and professional demeanor.

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Picture it as an insightful peek into an applicant's past work life, offering you the chance to verify the information provided in a resume or during an interview. It also helps understand the candidate's work style from people with first-hand experience.

Remember, a reference check isn't a formality. It's a powerful tool that goes beyond resumes and rehearsed interview answers to understand the genuine potential of a candidate – particularly as a whopping 40% of people lie on their resumes!

Additionally, the effectiveness of reference checks can be boosted with applicant tracking systems like Jobspage. By managing candidate information in one place, we make it easier for you to conduct first-rate reference checks, ensuring informed hiring decisions every single time.

Why reference checks are a game changer

Even though reference check questions offer a 360-degree view of your candidates, they're not always recognized as one of the best recruiting solutions. You might be asking, "Why are reference checks so important?" Let's look at their impact:

  1. Ensuring candidate authenticity: Reference checks provide a valuable reality check, helping to confirm the accuracy of details provided by the candidate. It verifies their work history, role responsibilities, and achievements, ensuring you're basing your decision on facts, not just claims.
  2. Discovering soft skills: While technical competencies are easier to assess, soft skills such as communication, teamwork, flexibility, and problem-solving often remain difficult to judge. Reference checks reveal these intangible yet crucial skills, painting a clearer picture of your candidate.
  3. Warding off negligent hiring lawsuits: A negligent hiring lawsuit occurs if an employee's actions harm someone and it's proven that the employer knew, or should have known, about the employee's background. Reference checks help uncover any red flags, protecting you from potential legal pitfalls – particularly as the average settlement is around one million dollars

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In essence, reference checks add a layer of protection, insight, and verification that helps find the best fit for your company, while also strengthening your overall talent pipeline.

Navigating the conversation: Top reference check questions

Finding yourself at the stage of requesting references is a clear indicator you’re making progress. This is where reference check questions truly shine as they reinforce that you’ve made the right choice or unveil any hidden concerns. 

With this in mind, we’ve broken the top reference check questions into three sections – introductory reference check questions, performance-related reference check questions, and work ethic and experience reference check questions.

Introductory reference check questions

Starting the conversation with light, open-ended questions helps build rapport and makes referees feel comfortable. This initial warmth paves the way for more in-depth inquiries as the conversation progresses. Here are some examples:

  1. Could you please describe your relationship with the candidate?
  2. What was the applicant's job title and responsibilities?
  3. Over what period of time did you work with the candidate? 
  4. What was your first impression of the interviewee?

Performance-related reference check questions

Now that introductions are out of the way, performance-related questions uncover the candidate's abilities, skills, accomplishments, and areas of improvement from their previous roles:

  1. What roles did the applicant have while working with you?
  2. Could you describe the key responsibilities associated with these roles?
  3. What were the most demanding aspects of the candidate's positions?
  4. How did the prospect tackle these demanding hurdles?
  5. What would you identify as the candidate's professional strengths, and how did these contribute to your organization?
  6. In which areas could the candidate improve their skills or performance?

Work ethic and experience reference check questions

Once you understand the candidate's performance in their past roles, you’ll need to assess their work ethic and glean more about their experience. These questions help evaluate the candidate's attitude toward work:

  1. How would you describe the applicant's attitude towards work? 
  2. Can you describe the candidate's working style? 
  3. How would you rate the potential employees reliability and punctuality?
  4. How well does the candidate work under pressure?
  5. What was the candidate's approach to problem-solving and overcoming challenges?
  6. Can you provide examples of how the applicant demonstrated initiative?
  7. How well did the candidate handle feedback and criticism?
  8. How did the candidate get along with colleagues?
  9. Was the prospect a team player, or did they prefer working independently?
  10. Can you discuss the candidate's commitment to professional development?
  11. How did the candidate handle conflict in the workplace?
  12. Would you describe the nominee as a leader, follower, or both? Can you provide examples?
  13. Given the chance, would you rehire this candidate?
  14. Overall, how would you rate the candidate's job performance?

To make the most of these insights, craft a reference check template based on the above questions. Such a template will provide you and your team with a winning structure for each reference check, ensuring you cover all vital areas. 

As you navigate these conversations, let your template guide you but stay open to spontaneous questions or discussions that may arise. 

Boost your reference checks with Jobspage

Reference checks are far more than just a box to tick in the hiring process. These conversations provide heaps of insight, giving you confidence that you're making the best decision for your team.

Remember, always approach reference checks with an objective in mind. Ask specific, open-ended questions and listen carefully to the responses. These details can be the deciding factor between hiring a good employee and an exceptional one.

To streamline this process, consider using Jobspage. Our easy-to-use applicant tracking system handles all your candidate information with simplicity, making your reference checks and hiring decisions as easy as pie! 

Here at Jobspage, we ensure you have the right tools to bring the best talent to your team. Now, you're ready for hiring success, sign up to Jobspage for free today! Happy hiring!

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