What to Ask When Checking References: A Comprehensive Guide

Hiring the right candidate is vital, ensuring qualifications, experience, and culture fit. Reference checks offer insights into performance, work ethic, and character. In this guide, Recruitery will explore “what to ask when checking references?”, when and why to do reference checks, effective methods, and key questions.

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What is a Reference Check?

A reference check involves reaching out to individuals who've worked with a candidate, like former supervisors, colleagues, or clients, to assess the candidate's professional background and suitability. It usually includes a set of questions to understand the candidate's work history, skills, and behavior in past roles.

1. When Should You Do a Reference Check?

A reference check is conducted when an employer seeks more information about a candidate before making an offer. It involves talking to current or former managers, co-workers, and may also include recommendation letters, work samples, skill verification, and educational background confirmation.

2. Why Should You Conduct a Reference Check?

Conducting reference checks offers several important benefits for your hiring process:

  • Verification: Reference checks help verify the accuracy of the information provided by the candidate on their resume and during interviews, such as job titles, employment dates, and key responsibilities.

  • Performance Evaluation: References can provide insights into the candidate's past performance, including strengths and areas for improvement.

  • Cultural Fit: You can gain a better understanding of how well the candidate will fit into your organization's culture and work environment.

  • Red Flags: Reference checks may uncover any red flags, such as behavioral issues, ethical concerns, or potential conflicts of interest.

  • Legal Protection: Conducting reference checks can help you avoid hiring individuals with a history of misconduct or unethical behavior, which could lead to legal issues for your organization.

3. How Do You Conduct a Reference Check?

Conducting an effective reference check requires a structured approach. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to conduct reference checks:

Step 1: Request Permission

Before contacting references, obtain written or verbal consent from the candidate to contact their references. This is both a professional courtesy and a legal requirement in many places.

Step 2: Gather Reference Information

Collect the contact information of the candidate's references. Ensure you have the correct names, phone numbers, email addresses, and the nature of the reference's relationship with the candidate (e.g., former supervisor, colleague, client).

Step 3: Contact References

Reach out to the references through email or phone to schedule a convenient time for the reference check. Clearly state the purpose of the call and the estimated duration.

Step 4: Prepare Your Questions

Create a list of open-ended questions that will help you gather relevant information about the candidate. We'll provide a list of 20 best reference check questions later in this guide.

Step 5: Conduct the Reference Check

During the reference check, ask your prepared questions and take detailed notes. Pay attention to the reference's tone, as it can reveal valuable insights beyond the words spoken.

Step 6: Assess the Feedback

After completing the reference checks, review the information you've gathered and use it to inform your hiring decision. Compare the feedback from multiple references to form a well-rounded understanding of the candidate.

Now, let's dive into the 20 best reference check questions that will help you conduct a thorough and insightful reference check.

20 Best Reference Check Questions


  1. Can you confirm the candidate's employment history, including dates of employment, job titles, and roles they held during their tenure?

  2. What were the candidate's main responsibilities and duties in their previous position?

  3. How did the candidate perform in their role? What were their key accomplishments and areas of improvement?

  4. Can you describe the candidate's work ethic and punctuality?

  5. How did the candidate interact with colleagues and superiors? Did they work well in a team, communicate effectively, and resolve conflicts professionally?

  6. Did the candidate demonstrate strong problem-solving and decision-making skills? Can you provide specific examples?

  7. How did the candidate handle challenges and high-pressure situations in their previous job?

  8. Were there any notable instances of the candidate going above and beyond in their role or demonstrating exceptional dedication?

  9. Can you comment on the candidate's level of professionalism, including their attire, demeanor, and respect for company policies?

  10. Did the candidate require a lot of supervision, or were they able to work independently and take initiative?

  11. How would you rate the candidate's technical or job-specific skills and qualifications?

  12. Did the candidate meet deadlines consistently and deliver quality work?

  13. What was the reason for the candidate's departure from your organization, and would you rehire them if given the opportunity?

  14. Can you share any areas in which the candidate could improve or develop professionally?

  15. Did the candidate work well under the organization's values and culture?

  16. How did the candidate handle feedback and constructive criticism?

  17. Can you discuss the candidate's interpersonal skills, including their ability to build relationships with clients or customers?

  18. Were there any instances of ethical or integrity-related concerns during the candidate's employment with your organization?

  19. Can you describe any major projects or initiatives the candidate was involved in, and their contributions to the success of those projects?

  20. Is there anything else you believe is important for us to know about the candidate in the context of their potential role in our organization?

10 Tips for Checking References

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In addition to the questions you ask during the reference check, here are some valuable tips to ensure the process is as effective as possible:

1. Inform the Candidates Upfront You Check References

Let candidates know early in the hiring process that you will be conducting reference checks. This encourages them to be honest and accurate in their application and interviews.

2. Don't Delegate the Reference Check to Someone Else

As a hiring manager or recruiter, you should personally conduct the reference check. It allows you to ask follow-up questions and gather valuable information directly.

3. Make Sure and Take Detailed Notes

Detailed notes help you remember the specifics of the reference check. This information can be useful when comparing candidates and making a final decision.

4. Conduct the Reference Checks by Phone

Phone calls are generally more effective than written reference checks. They allow for real-time conversation, which can reveal nuances that written responses may miss.

5. Start Off with Easy Questions

Begin the reference check with straightforward questions, such as verifying employment dates and job titles. This helps establish rapport and gradually eases into more in-depth inquiries.

6. Verify Employment Dates

Confirming employment dates is essential to ensure the accuracy of a candidate's work history. It also helps identify any potential resume discrepancies.

7. Review Social Media Content/Posts

While not a replacement for reference checks, reviewing a candidate's social media profiles can provide additional insights into their behavior and character. Be sure to respect privacy laws and regulations while doing this.

8. Don't Ask Close-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions encourage references to provide more detailed and honest responses. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no."

9. Assure the Reference of Confidentiality

Let references know that the information they share will be kept confidential and used solely for the purpose of evaluating the candidate. This can encourage more candid responses.

10. Be on Guard for Fake References

Occasionally, candidates may provide fake references. Verify the authenticity of the reference by confirming their identity and organization. If something seems off, investigate further.


Conducting reference checks is crucial for informed hiring decisions, reducing costly mistakes. Following best practices and asking the right questions provides insights into a candidate's qualifications and character. Recruitery hopes that the article has provided you with answers to "what to ask when checking references?”. It benefits both the organization and allows candidates to showcase their professionalism and fit for the role.