Employer
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Talent
June 8, 2023

35 Reference Check Questions that Reveal the Perfect Candidate 

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Reference checks are a critical component of the hiring process for many organisations. It aims to gather information about a candidate from people who have worked with or know them well. Reference checks are used to verify the accuracy of a candidate's resume and to gain insight into their work habits, strengths, weaknesses, and overall character. Reference checks questions are carefully crafted to elicit detailed and informative responses that can help employers decide whether a candidate is the right fit for the job.

The goal of the reference check is to confirm that the candidate has been honest in their job application and to see if the applying candidate is indeed suitable for the job and the company. 

Importance of Reference Check 

One of the best ways to avoid bad hires is by conducting reference checks on job applicants. According to Forbes, it is estimated one bad hire can cost a company at least 30% of the employee’s annual salary. Hence why it is imperative to thoroughly review candidates' applications — not everything on paper translates well into practice or is factually correct. 

Besides doing a background check, asking the right reference check questions will help to verify claims and statements made by the candidates in their resumes — thus helping you to make an informed decision. 

In addition to verifying on paper skills and experience, employers also will be able to see whether the candidates’ behaviours and attitudes are the right fit for their company's work culture and environment. If candidates' behaviours and attitudes don’t fit a company's work culture and environment there will be a risk of internal conflict and friction, which will affect a company’s productivity, performance and efficiency.  

The Common Reference Check Questions You Should Know and Ask

The right questions will provide you with answers and help you identify and evaluate candidates better, to see if they fit into your company’s culture and the job position. Below we have listed several questions that you can use as a reference and use when interviewing candidates. 

Introductory Reference Check Questions

  • Are there any details regarding [candidate’s name] that you or your company are reluctant or unable to provide me with due to confidentiality?
  • If there are any limitations on sharing information, could you assist me in contacting former employees who had close working relationships with the candidate?
  • Can you provide verification for [candidate's name] dates of employment, salary, and job title?
  • What is your connection/relationship to [candidate’s name], and how did you initially come into contact with each other?

Reference Check Questions to Know the Reference

  • How long have you been employed by your current company?
  • How long have you held your current job title?
  • In what capacities and for how long did you collaborate with the [candidate’s name]?
  • Can you identify any specific reasons why I should consider reaching out to another reference?

Reference Check Questions to Ask Co-workers

  • How long did you serve/work together with [candidate’s name], and in what professional role?
  • What were the aspects you appreciated the most and the least when collaborating with [candidate’s name]?
  • In what manner did your professional growth and learning occur during your collaboration with [candidate’s name]?
  • Did [candidate’s name] provide support to you and your fellow colleagues? If so, how did [candidate’s name] support you and your fellow colleagues?
  • In what ways could [candidate’s name’ have improved their teamwork and cooperation with you and your colleagues?

Reference Check Questions to Ask Managers/ Supervisors

  • How long were you responsible for overseeing/supervising [candidate's name] work, either directly or indirectly?
  • Can you describe what aspects of managing [candidate’s name] were smooth sailing, and what aspects presented challenges?
  • Can you describe [candidate’s name] growth and development while working under your supervision?
  • Do you have any recommendations or suggestions for effectively managing this [candidate’s name]?

Reference Check Questions to Assess Candidate’s Ethics and Behaviours 

  • What was the reason for [candidate's name] departure from your company?
  • Did [candidate's name] behaviours result in any workplace conflicts or raise concerns about ethical practices?
  • If given the chance, would you consider rehiring [candidate’s name]? If so, what factors would contribute to your decision, and if not, what reasons would prevent their rehiring?
  • Can you provide an example of a time when [candidate's name] faced a moral or ethical dilemma at work? How did they handle it?
  • Did [candidate's name] demonstrate respect and professionalism when dealing with colleagues, clients, or superiors?

Reference Check Questions Assessing Compatibility for the Position

  • What were[candidate's name] initial and final positions within the organisation?
  • Could you describe the responsibilities and duties associated with these roles?
  • Can you provide specific instances of how [candidate's name] managed challenging situations or stress at work?
  • In your opinion, would [candidate's name] be a suitable candidate for the [job position you're seeking to fill] based on their work experience and skill set? And Why?
  • What would you consider as the most significant achievement of [candidate's name] during their employment with your company?
  • What areas do you think [candidate's name] needs to improve on to realise their full potential?
  • What are [candidate's name] 's most notable professional strengths, and how did these strengths contribute to the success of your company?
  • From your perspective, do you consider [candidate's name]  to be qualified for this job? Please provide your reasoning behind your answer.

Reference Check Questions Assessing Compatibility for the Company Culture

  • In your opinion, what kind of work environment do you believe would be conducive for [candidate's name] to flourish?
  • Based on your previous interactions with [candidate's name], do they tend to be more effective when working independently or as part of a team?
  • Can you describe [candidate's name]'s working relationships with colleagues, clients, business partners, and supervisors?
  • How well did [candidate's name] adhere to company policies and procedures? Were there any instances where they deviated from the expected standards?
  • Did the candidate display strong teamwork and collaboration skills? How did they contribute to a positive work environment?

How to Conduct Reference Check 

The standard procedure for every job interview is that before employers extend a job offer, they will usually conduct a reference check for their top candidates to see if the candidates are suitable for the position and company. 

Below we have listed a few ways for you to utilise the reference check questions we shared in this article in the most professional and effective way:

  • Request your candidates to provide you with the necessary information to contact their references.
  • Ensure that you have the candidate's consent before initiating contact with their references.
  • Create a set of questions specifically for reference check interviews to ask your candidate's listed references.
  • Do not hesitate to ask additional questions for clarity or to seek further insight.
  • Select the appropriate person to interview, ideally the candidate's previous manager, rather than a close colleague.
  • Provide a brief overview of your company culture and the job position you are seeking to fill.
  • Observe the reference's manner of speaking and tone as well as their responses, in order to gain a complete understanding of their perspective on your candidate.

Conclusion

Reference checks are an essential component of the job hiring process that can help employers make informed decisions about potential candidates. By seeking feedback from previous supervisors or colleagues, employers can gain valuable insights into a candidate's work habits, strengths, weaknesses, and overall character. Preparing a set of well-crafted reference check interview questions and selecting the right person to interview can help employers make the most of the process. 

Paying attention to the reference's tone and manner of speaking, in addition to their responses, can help employers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's suitability for the role and their potential within the company. To put it simply, conducting reference checks can lead to better hiring decisions, increased productivity, and a more positive work environment.

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