23 Reference Check Questions For A More Informed Hiring Decision

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Can an applicant lie on their resume or CV? A recent survey revealed that they can. In fact, a staggering 51% of adults admit to having  lied at least once when applying for a new role. The most common false information they provided? Exaggerating their previous responsibilities.

But do people get hired as a result of their lies? Well, a 2018 report said that not only did 92.5% of Brits get away with lying, 71.6% of them actually got the job!  

This is one of the reasons why conducting reference checks is so important. But, when it comes to gathering insights on a candidate, what reference check questions should you ask? 

What Is a Reference Check?

A reference check is the process of getting in touch with an applicant's provided references - typically their former managers or supervisors - to know more about their previous employment and gain a more in-depth understanding of their attitude and behaviors. 

Generally, a reference check can sift through the information to reveal the truths and lies. The results of the check either confirm that the candidate has the experience and skills they say they have in their CV or reveal that they lied somewhere along the way. 

When Should You Do A Reference Check?

It’s a common practice for employers to conduct reference checks when they already have their top 2 or 3 candidates. This helps them decide on who’s more qualified for the position. However, some companies reserve the reference check only for their top candidate. In this case, they conduct the check before extending them the offer. 

Whatever the case may be, it’s highly recommended that you conduct reference checks before officially hiring a candidate. 

Why Should You Conduct A Reference Check?

Besides verifying the information provided by the candidate, such as employment history, asking reference check questions is necessary to:

Learn more about the applicant’s skillset

Their resume may indicate that one of their key responsibilities is to “advise customers on service issues,” but how well were they able to carry out this task? For this reason, questions for reference checks should draw elaborate answers about how well a candidate can perform their roles and responsibilities. 

Determine the candidate’s working style, attitude, and ethic 

What is your candidate’s style of working? Some applicants fail to perform under pressure  while others remain calm and collected. There are candidates who work best independently while others thrive as team players. The more you know about the candidate, the better you can decide on how suitable they are for the position. 

Gain more insights into their communication and interpersonal skills 

Good interpersonal skills help establish healthy professional relationships, allowing employees to work well as a team. Hence, employee reference check questions, like how they handle conflicts at work, should be asked. 

Identify red flags and reduce potential risks 

Why did the candidate leave their last position? Was it simply because they wanted to explore their options, or were there issues related to their behavior or performance? 

23 Reference Check Questions For A More Informed Hiring Decision

The questions to ask when checking references may vary depending on the industry and the role. Below is a pool of reference check questions you may consider asking to help decide on a candidate’s suitability for the position. 

Opening Reference Check Questions

  1. In what capacity did you work with the candidate?
  2. How long did you work with each other? 
  3. Could you please confirm the candidate’s
  • Job title
  • Responsibilities
  • Duration of employment

More In-Depth Work-Specific Questions

  1. In their time in your company, what were their primary responsibilities? Can you describe their daily duties? 
  2. Please describe the quality and consistency of their work. Were they dependable? Did they accomplish their assigned tasks on time? 
  3. Did the candidate receive any award, recognition, or promotion because of their exemplary performance? 
  4. While performing their role, did you notice any behaviors that affect their performance? 
  5. While performing their role, can you remember an instance where the candidate faced a significant challenge? How did they respond? What was the outcome? In general, how did they handle work-related stress? 
  6. How did the candidate respond to feedback? 
  7. In your observation, would you say that the candidate worked well independently? Or did they require a lot of supervision?
  8. Is there any area where you would note that the candidate improved their skills?

Questions About Their Interpersonal Skills 

  1. Can you describe the candidate’s collaboration skills? What were the outcomes of the project? 
  2. On top of their daily responsibilities, were there instances where the candidate provided support for their colleagues?
  3. In general, how did they get along with other people?
  4. Was the candidate ever involved in a conflict with a team member? How did they handle it?

General Reference Check Questions

  1. What are the candidate’s strengths?
  2. What would you say are their weaknesses? Is there a way they need support in the first 30 to 90 days? 
  3. In your observation, would you say they have good communication and listening skills? 

Closing Questions

  1. Why did the candidate leave their last position?
  2. Given the chance, would you rehire the candidate? If not, what’s the reason? 
  3. Do you believe the candidate can take on the role we spoke about? 
  4. Would you like to add any additional information? 
  5. Is there anyone else you’d recommend we speak with? 

How Do You Conduct Reference Checks? Tips For Employers

Asking the right employment reference check questions not only helps you identify false information but also allows for stronger hiring decisions. Yet you'd be surprised to know that many companies skip it altogether. Some think that it is unproductive, but that might just be because they do not have a system in place for it

The following tips may help you establish a system for conducting a reference check:

First and Foremost, Stay Compliant

There may not be a singular law governing background checks in your country, but there may be several affecting some of its aspects. Data protection laws, for example, often ask employers to obtain written consent before collecting personal or sensitive information. 

Also, remember that the questions to ask for reference check should be relevant to the role. Avoid inquiry on their protected characteristics, such as race and religion, as those may be viewed as discriminatory. 

Learn more about the New Background Check Laws here

Let Applicants Know You’re Checking References, Ask Them To Help Set Up The Meeting

During the application process, let the candidate know right away that you conduct reference checks. And, while it’s easier to rely on their listed references, it may be best to ask them directly if you can talk to their previous supervisor, manager, or even direct report. This also helps avoid calling fake references. 

Be Consistent, Use a Template

As mentioned above, reference check questions may vary depending on industry or role. To stay consistent, consider making a template for each position you're going to hire for. The template includes the questions you want to ask the reference. 

Here's a Free Reference Check Template you can use or modify. 

Try To Conduct Reference Check Via Phone Calls 

Phone calls are a great way to conduct reference checks because words and tone can express intent and emotion, leaving less room for misunderstanding or the wrong impression, plus you can easily ask follow-up questions. Moreover, some people may be more willing to disclose negative feedback about the candidate via the phone instead of in writing. 

Here are some tips when conducting a reference check via a phone call:

  • Make sure it's a good time to have a brief conversation with the referee. 
  • Introduce yourself, the company you’re from, as well as the candidate who listed them as a reference. Also, don’t forget to mention the position the candidate is applying for; briefly explain its primary responsibilities as well. 
  • Start with the easy questions first. As it's best to ask open-ended reference check questions, give the reference adequate time to respond. Avoid leading questions as well. 
  • Remind them that all answers will remain confidential

Weigh Reference Check Results Against Other Relevant Information

Reference check is just a piece of the puzzle when it comes to determining a candidate’s suitability for the position. It’s crucial to weigh the results against other information you gathered from their interviews, tests, and other background checks. 

Partner with a Third Party

Many companies now collaborate with a third party to conduct reference checks on their applicants. After all, chasing referees may be time-consuming. The third party often takes care of contacting the referees and asking questions, allowing you to focus on other core tasks of running your business. 

Let Veremark Conduct Reference Checks For You

Veremark, a background screening platform trusted by the world’s best workplaces, can conduct reference checks to determine the candidate’s: 

  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Key learning and professional development areas
  • Personality and characteristics
  • Professional contributions to their previous company 

With Veremark, you simply need to provide candidate details and requirements for the check. We'll conduct the check and deliver the results with insights into your candidate while staying compliant to the relevant laws for background checks. Our system can also combine relevant information, allowing you to weigh them against each other for a more informed hiring decision.  

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What is a reference check?

A reference check involves contacting the applicant’s provided references to learn more about their employment history and gain better insight into their work ethics, style, and attitude.

Why is there still a need to conduct reference checks?
Is it better to conduct reference checks via email or phone call?
Can you outsource reference checks to a third party?


What background check do I need?

This depends on the industry and type of role you are recruiting for. To determine whether you need reference checks, identity checks, bankruptcy checks, civil background checks, credit checks for employment or any of the other background checks we offer, chat to our team of dedicated account managers.

Why should employers check the background of potential employees?

Many industries have compliance-related employment check requirements. And even if your industry doesn’t, remember that your staff have access to assets and data that must be protected. When you employ a new staff member you need to be certain that they have the best interests of your business at heart. Carrying out comprehensive background checking helps mitigate risk and ensures a safer hiring decision.

How long do background checks take?

Again, this depends on the type of checks you need. Simple identity checks can be carried out in as little as a few hours but a worldwide criminal background check for instance might take several weeks. A simple pre-employment check package takes around a week. Our account managers are specialists and can provide detailed information into which checks you need and how long they will take.

Can you do a background check online?

All Veremark checks are carried out online and digitally. This eliminates the need to collect, store and manage paper documents and information making the process faster, more efficient and ensures complete safety of candidate data and documents.

What are the benefits of a background check?

In a competitive marketplace, making the right hiring decisions is key to the success of your company. Employment background checks enables you to understand more about your candidates before making crucial decisions which can have either beneficial or catastrophic effects on your business.

What does a background check show?

Background checks not only provide useful insights into a candidate’s work history, skills and education, but they can also offer richer detail into someone’s personality and character traits. This gives you a huge advantage when considering who to hire. Background checking also ensures that candidates are legally allowed to carry out certain roles, failed criminal and credit checks could prevent them from working with vulnerable people or in a financial function.

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Request a discovery session with one of our background screening experts today.

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