The Best Reference Check Questions to Ask When Hiring
The hiring process is critical to the success of any business. As an HR manager, you want to find the top candidate with the right skills to bring new energy and creativity to the company. Usually, job seekers present themselves in a positive light on their resumes and during interviews.
Asking the right reference questions gives you invaluable insights into the candidate’s personality and attitude. It’s the kind of information that will truly highlight their suitability for the role you want them to fill.
Why Conduct a Reference Check and Ask Reference Questions?
You can get most of the information about a candidate through their resume and via an in-person interview. However, they can give biased answers about their employment history and experiences because they want to make a good impression.
Performing a reference check ensures that you don’t hire the wrong person. Professional reference questions uncover information that will help you determine how the candidates will fit into your company culture, relate to co-workers, and perform professionally.
Reference questions have two major parts. The first one is to confirm the accuracy of the background information already provided by the candidate. These include job titles, credentials, employment dates, duties, roles, and supervisors. The idea is to verify if the candidate is who she says she is, which is fundamental to the success of any business.
The second part involves obtaining a wealth of information that the candidate didn’t share, deliberately or unintentionally. Apart from skills and job experience, reference questions will unearth objective insights into the candidate’s character. It will also reveal their communication skills, social aptitude, past performance, and abilities.
A reference check may also reveal instances of misbehavior that you may not have had access to. In essence, a reference check helps you to:
- Spot red flags on the candidate’s past behavior.
- Learn forthright if the candidate is trustworthy, based on the information they provided.
- Learn about the candidate’s work relationship with fellow workers and management.
Questions You Should Be Asking in a Reference Check
While you can send out reference letters, talking directly to references is the preferred method to get more thorough and precise information about the potential candidate. It isn’t enough to just confirm if a reference knows the candidate. To yield insightful information, you have to ask the right questions.
Now, the list of questions to ask references is endless. Below, we've sampled 22 reference check questions that can help you determine if the candidate is the best fit for the job. You can add other questions that will give you a clearer understanding of the candidate’s behavior, character, skills, and abilities.
Introductory Reference Check Questions
1. When did the candidate work in your company and what was it like working with them?
Asking this question will help you verify the employment dates and other details provided by the candidate. Plus, it’s a good way to initiate a conversation.
2. How long did you work together and in what capacity?
Depending on who you're talking to, the structure of your conversation may vary. For example, the information provided by a colleague may not be the same as the one provided by a manager. The length of time will reveal the candidate’s loyalty.
3. What were the candidate’s job title, duties, roles, and responsibilities?
This question also helps you to verify the details provided by the candidate in their resume. Some candidates may exaggerate their resumes to gain a competitive edge. The answers you get will help prove them right or wrong and is vital when making a hiring decision.
4. How would you describe the candidate’s character and personality?
The idea is to get the reference to open up and talk about the candidate as a person. It will help you get insights into how the candidate relates to co-workers, clients, and bosses. For a clearer answer, ask for specific instances that highlight the candidate’s relationship.
Employment History Reference Questions
5. What primary responsibilities did the candidate hold in their roles?
The responsibilities a candidate held in their previous job roles will reveal how well they performed their duties.
6. How would you describe the candidate’s performance?
Asking an HR manager to provide a summary of the candidate’s performance review can offer important information into their actual performance. If you ask a colleague, be sure to get a precise and specific answer. Generic answers like, “Oh! She was terrific” or “He was great” don’t give much of a description.
7. Did the candidate change roles while working at the company? If so, how did their role change?
Knowing that the candidate was promoted in the previous company is a good sign of a high performer. It gives you a better scope of how their career and skills have evolved along the way.
8. Did the candidate require a lot of supervision or did they work well independently?
You want to know if the job seeker is capable of getting the job done without direct supervision. It's one of the top traits to consider in the hiring process.
9. Why did the candidate leave their role at the company?
Again, the responses to this question may differ depending on who you are asking. A colleague may have a different perspective than an HR manager or supervisor. Getting the views of both will be invaluable.
10. What was the candidate’s salary/compensation package?
Before you start asking, keep in mind that in some states, it’s illegal to ask for an employee’s salary history. If the law allows it in your state, such details can help you prepare an offer and anticipate salary negotiations.
Reference Questions to Assess the Candidates Persona
11. How would you describe the candidate’s strengths?
This question seeks to find out more about areas the candidate excels the most. This might reveal a set of skills that the resume or interview didn’t.
12. Here’s a summary of the roles we are considering for the candidate. How well do you think they will fit?
Since the reference presumably knows things that you don’t about the candidate, sharing an overview of the role you are hiring them for, gives the reference a chance to expand on the information they have already shared.
Reference Questions to Assess Cultural Fit
13. How can you describe the candidate’s communication and listening skills?
Effective communication and active listening skills minimize mistakes in a company and boost productivity and customer satisfaction. Such details are crucial in helping you find out if you’re hiring the right candidate for the role.
14. What can you tell me about the candidate’s working style?
Not everyone can work well as a team and responses to this question will perfectly highlight which side the candidate is on.
15. Did the candidate have issues with colleagues or management?
Conflicts will always arise in a company, one way or another. The important thing is knowing how to handle instances of stress and pressure. Ask whether the candidate was ever subjected to disciplinary action and inquire about the circumstances and the outcome.
Reference Questions on Employee Engagement
16. What motivated the candidate to excel in their previous position?
This question attempts to give you insights into how to motivate not only the candidate but also your current employees. The information will also come in handy during the negotiation process. Employee motivation has been shown to boost their morale and productivity.
17. What are some of the major accomplishments the candidate achieved during their time at your company?
A key factor to consider when recruiting is a candidate's accomplishments in their former roles and their impact on the success of the company. After all, the primary reason for hiring the candidate is to contribute to your company’s success.
18. How can you describe the work environment and company culture the candidate experienced during their time at your company?
Understanding the previous work environment of the candidate can help you better prepare your team. This will give the new hire a personalized onboarding process to accommodate them the best way you can.
Additionally, learning about the culture at the candidate’s previous workplace will give you an insight into the role they played in their past job environment. You will also know what elements helped them thrive. Such information can help you predict which side the candidate will gravitate toward within your company culture.
19. How reliable was the candidate in ensuring that deliverables were timely?
You want to hire an employee who takes their duties and responsibilities seriously. A reliable employee is an asset to a company and it shows that they will strive to complete assignments promptly.
Closing Reference Questions
20. Knowing the candidate, would you say they supported colleagues in their roles?
It's one thing to be friends with co-workers and another to support them in their duties and roles. This question will reveal if the candidate is a go-to person for something in particular – it shows his or her capabilities in team building.
21. What is the most memorable moments or experiences with the candidate?
The candidate might brag a lot during an interview to make a good impression. Asking a reference this question brings out the true impression the candidate made while working with previous co-workers.
22. Would you and your colleagues consider working with the candidate again?
Another variation of this question (if you're asking the manager) would be “Would you rehire the candidate in the future?” If the answer is yes, then you have found yourself a great candidate. If the answer is no, try to get as many details as possible why they wouldn't rehire the candidate. The reasons might not be compelling enough to warrant the candidate’s dismissal.
When considering questions to ask a reference, here are valuable tips to keep in mind:
- Avoid asking close-ended questions. Frame your questions so the reference gives detailed answers.
- Pay attention to vague responses. If a reference is giving vague answers or avoiding a question, there’s a reason behind it. This might be a sign of a red flag.
- Be professional and courteous. Be polite in your inquiries and use a positive tone. Be an active listener and avoid interrupting the reference or putting them on the defensive.
- Be deliberate. Your mission is to verify the candidate’s details, fill in the gaps, and confirm if the candidate is who they say they are. The questions should focus on whether the candidate is a good fit for your company.
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