Questions to Ask When Checking References (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

You can obtain almost all the information to make a recruiting decision from a candidate's resume, cover letter and interview. There's one more step you may take to establish if they're a good fit for the available position, which is a reference check. Contacting the references can help you understand what it's like to manage your possible new employee and determine how well they would perform their obligations. In this article, we discuss what questions to ask when checking references, look at why it's important to have one and outline what to consider when conducting one.

Related: Your Guide to Providing References on a Resume

What questions to ask on a reference check

Learning what questions to ask on a reference check can help you in your recruiting or HR career. The questions you ask a candidate's references can impact how successfully you're able to elicit the most useful information for the best hiring choice. You may refer to the following samples on what questions to ask on a reference check to assist you in assessing if the applicant you're interviewing is the greatest match for the position.

1. How was your experience working with this candidate?

When you ask a reference this question, they may explain their day-to-day experience working alongside or supervising the applicant. Their response can provide information about the candidate's overall attitude in the place of work, level of trustworthiness and dependability and how they handle colleagues, complete job obligations and undertake projects. All of this may help you determine how well a candidate would fit in with the rest of the team and thrive in a new capacity.

Related: What Is a Reference Check? Definition, Steps and Tips

2. What are this candidate's strongest points?

While the applicant has most likely previously discussed their talents, abilities and skills with you, coworkers and supervisors may see a team member's strengths differently. They may discuss a new strength or skill, or they can elaborate and provide details about the candidate's skills. By posing this reference check question, you can determine which talents and abilities you can expect the candidate to exhibit the most frequently.

Related: How to Write a Character Reference Letter for a Friend

3. What were this individual's most promising areas when you worked together?

Everyone has flaws and areas for improvement, but it's vital to ensure that a candidate's deficiencies don't contradict critical aspects of the position you're recruiting for. This question can help to explain particular areas where the candidate may need further development to reach their maximum potential. Just keep in mind how long it has been since the reference worked with the candidate because they may have resolved these issues along the way.

4. How would you characterise the candidate's listening and communication abilities?

References may note how effectively the applicant interacts with others and illustrate how well they speak with and listen to others regularly. These are essential abilities for every employee to possess, especially if they would be working with others on a team or applying for a customer-facing role. Listening and communication abilities can also help you determine whether a candidate has the potential to be a successful leader. If they show signs of becoming a strong leader, they may have a better chance of moving up in the firm and eventually making important choices.

Related: Listening Skills: Definition, Importance and How To Practice

5. What was this candidate's most notable achievement while you were working together?

Before making a job offer, it's critical to assess whether a candidate consistently goes above and beyond their assigned responsibilities. Asking this question allows references to reflect on times when the applicant used their talents, showed unusual abilities or conquered a challenging obstacle. This might give you a better idea of how the prospect would act if they encounter comparable demands and issues at your organisation.

Related: Employment Reference Letter: Definition and How to Write One

6. Tell me about the candidate's work ethic.

This question can reveal more about the candidate's work ethic and dedication to the task. Enquire about instances when they witnessed the applicant working hard on a project or assignment and how the project's results turned out. Understanding how hard the applicant works on projects might be a good indicator of how well they may perform at the new organisation.

Related: How To Demonstrate a Strong Work Ethic to Your Employer

7. How did this candidate deal with adversity?

You've probably asked the applicant a similar topic, but try collecting feedback from a reference on how they've handled challenging circumstances. These challenges can include interpersonal conflicts, tough deadlines and tight budgets. This can disclose how effectively a candidate works under pressure and how they handle stressful conditions.

Related: What Are Resilience Skills? And How to Improve Them

8. Would you employ this applicant again if you could? If so, why or why not?

This straightforward question may be the most important on the list. A reference who would rehire a candidate demonstrates the applicant is trustworthy and offers actual value to a team, but if you come across a reference who would be hesitant to hire a candidate again, consider this a warning sign. Make sure you understand the logic behind the reference's response before making your final decision.

Related: Top 20 Qualities of a Good Employee You Should Know

9. What was the reason for this candidate's departure from the company?

Regardless of whether the past employer lays off the prospect, the prospect is seeking new challenges or is changing professional paths, posing this reference check question can corroborate what the candidate has previously told you. If the explanations don't line up, it might be a sign that the applicant isn't being honest with you, which is something to consider.

10. Tell me anything about this individual that isn't on their resume

This purposefully ambiguous question allows references to expound on any of the candidate's talents, attributes or accomplishments that you may have overlooked. A reference who has worked closely with the candidate, for instance, may discuss their non-industry experience such as volunteer work, side employment, exceptional talents and interests outside of work. They may also share the candidate's distinctive attributes, characteristics and personality traits.

Why is it important to have a reference check?

When you ask a candidate about their job history and previous professional experiences, their responses may be subjective, even if they're sincerely trying to be genuine because they want to create the greatest impression. This implies that obtaining the perspective of a third party who has worked with or managed the applicant might give more insight into how the candidate performs. When asking for references, make it a point to include at least one previous boss. While it's vital to hear from peers, leaders are accountable for reviewing their staff and may give additional insights about the candidate's overall performance.

There are various reasons to verify a candidate's references. First, a reference may confirm that the individual has the employment experience and abilities that they claim. A reference check can also provide insight into the candidate's character, such as work ethic and determination to confront and overcome problems. Furthermore, a reference may have unique talents and qualities that the applicant did not share or may further confirm those that they did share. Effective questions may also provide you with useful information about the veracity of a potential hire's resume and interview replies.

Tips for asking reference check questions

The reference check is an important component of the recruiting process because it might reveal information about a candidate that you would not have discovered otherwise. By asking the proper questions, you may obtain a deeper knowledge of the person you're interviewing and evaluate if they're the greatest match for the job.

Outlined below are some more pointers to consider while checking a candidate's references:

Think about the relationship

Depending on their background, age and degree of comfort, potential candidates may provide a range of references. Entry-level employees, for instance, may be unable to produce three past bosses on their reference lists. Alternatively, they may turn to friends, instructors or informal employers. You may consider how well they know the reference and how long they've worked together to establish the accuracy of the reference's information.

Evaluate their credibility

While this is not always the case, a reference's qualifications can reveal a great deal about its credibility. Consider requesting your prospects to include the job titles of their references in their reference list. This can aid you in determining who might provide you with an honest and accurate picture of the hire's prior performance and experience.

Assess their significance and relevance

Setting criteria in advance might help you acquire suitable references for potential hiring. If you have particular issues or talents that you wish to validate, examine the relevancy of a reference to verify their capacity to effectively answer your enquiries. If you want to discover more about a potential hire's technical understanding, for instance, make sure their reference is another specialist in the industry who is familiar with the candidate's skills.

Related: How to Ask for a Letter of Reference (With Steps and Tips)

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