Employment reference check questions

joseph cole

Updated on February 28, 2023

Use the these employment reference check questions during the hiring process to collect information about your candidates’ previous job performance from former employers and coworkers.

Why should you conduct a reference check?

Candidates only present their strong points on their CVs and during interviews. Reference checks allow you to know about a candidate in detail including their performance, their behaviors with colleagues and punctuality. Before giving a job offer to candidates, consider getting references from their past employers, colleagues and associates. Conduct reference checks to:

  • Discover how candidates work with others. Use reference checks to know about candidates’ work relations with colleagues, managers and clients.
  • Understand candidate’s past work experiences and how candidates use their skills at work.
  • Make sure you are getting correct information: Cross-check resume data, like employment period, job role, responsibilities and salary.
  • Know weaknesses: Use reference checks to know about candidates’ worrying previous behaviors. Use this information to make a more informed hiring decision.

Employment reference check questions

  • What was the job role and work duration of (candidate’s name) in your company?
  • Why did (candidate’s name) leave your organization?
  • What were the key responsibilities of (candidate’s name)?
  • Can you tell me about a few group projects (candidate’s name) was a part of? What was his role and how well did he perform in the team?
  • How did (candidate’s name) react to feedback?
  • What are the two weaknesses and strengths of (candidate’s name)?
  • According to you what skills (candidate’s name) could further develop?
  • How did (candidate’s name) handle stressful situations?
  • Tell me about a time when (candidate’s name) managed a conflict between team members? What was his management style?
  • Would you rehire (candidate’s name)?
  • Were there any behaviors that affects (candidate’s name) performance? (e.g. arguing with colleagues, missing deadlines or being late)
  • Do you think (candidate’s name) is ready for a more senior role? Why or why not?

How to conduct a reference check

  • A reference call allows you to ask follow up questions and get better understanding of the candidate’s soft skills. You can either ask questions over a call or send an email to candidate’s former employer.
  • Prepare your questions according to the relationship the candidate shared with the person you are talking to. For example, a former coworker could tell you about candidates’ collaboration skills and a senior could tell you about candidate’s job performance.
  • Assess information you get through reference checks in relation to the job role.
  • Let candidates know in advance that you will be checking references. You can also ask them to share details of some people as references.
  • Use reference checks during the final hiring stage before giving a job offer. To be more unbiased in your recruitment process, ask same questions for the reference check of all shortlisted candidates.

Red Flags during background checks

  • Discrepancies in factual information: Small inaccuracies (like exact date of employment) might not be a reason to reject a candidate. But, if you feel that a candidate is lying about more important issues, like their salary and skills, consider it a red flag about their reliability.
  • Lack of specificity: You can expect detailed and positive answers from references. If former colleagues or employer can’t give examples to back up their claims or list any areas of improvements, then this can be a red flag.
  • Negative comments: Candidates generally provide a list of references who they know will promote them. Any negative comment from references about a candidate’s work performance is something that you should not ignore when making a hiring decision.

Challenges during reference checks

  • Lack of time: Former colleagues and employers might have time constraints in answering your questions. So, keep a reference check call short or send an email.
  • Lack of objectiveness: Some employers might hold bitterness against employees who left their organization. Or, other could exaggerate their behavior, if things ended well between them. To decrease the bias, ask for specific examples that describe the employee’s behavior and performance in the office.
  • Lack of trust: Some people may be cautious to share details about their former colleague. Assure them that the call is confidential and this is just to know a candidate in a better way.

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