Best Reference Check Questions When Evaluating Candidates

questions to ask references

How the world is changing isn’t a surprise anymore. At some point, the new normal became routine. Transitions from on-site to remote or re-assessment of business strategies are an ordinary working day for most of us. 

Even when you account for the variety of businesses that were forced into remote work, some things didn’t change that much after all. Adding new members to a team is always a tricky and tedious process. One of the first steps that come to mind is whether or not to ask reference check questions.  

In busy and uncertain times, does it make sense to ask reference questions? The last thing you want is to waste time and resources with useless procedures. Unless you can promote internally someone from your team, checking personal references is always a worthed step.

Especially in these times of crisis, we should pay even more attention to the hiring process! 

As we learned in 2020, the global pandemic changed the rules of the game from one day to the other You can’t control the world – no-one can. What you can do is build a solid and close-knit team. And it all starts from the hiring process, and checking reference questions.   

What Is a Reference Check and Why Should You Care About It

Reference check is a process of verifying the information and background of your candidates, confirming via mail or phone call the previous experience of each candidate to make a more conscious decision before extending the job offer. 

So far, nothing new from what your intuition already told you. The point is, why to put so much time and effort in checking reference questions when you have a solid interview process?

Well, do you remember Frank Abagnale, the star of Catch Me if You Can? In the movie, before his 19th birthday, he became a Pan American World Airways. Then, a Georgia doctor, a Louisiana parish prosecutor, of course while being the most skilled check forger – so skilled, that the FBI got him in the team. Interview processes didn’t really help in revealing his fake identities. 

You can be lucky enough to get a game changer like Frank, who successfully swapped careers like a woman changing shoes. Most likely, you won’t. We live in a messy world, and taking for granted that someone is honest, unfortunately, could be an odd oversight – especially for team leaders and managers. 

Asking reference check questions to your candidate’s former manager will give a more precise overview of how they interact with coworkers or take direction from supervisors – or even if they are who they claim to be! 

With that said, take your time to verify facts and skills and check work ethics, attitude, and punctuality. The time you invest in checking references will save you extra effort and resources during the training process

When and How Should You Ask a Reference Questions?

When it comes to checking personal references, it is all about the right time. Asking references is a long and tedious process as much as doing interviews. Scanning thousands CVs takes already you and your team a lot of time. Considering that you are the one that needs to check references, can you imagine asking references questions at this stage?

If you already mention that you will check references, most candidates will provide more than one contact. You would randomly end up contacting hundreds of former managers without even knowing what to ask to spot issues or if the CV you are examining is worth your time. Plus, how can you remember info about candidates without faces in mind?

If you already mention that you will check references, most candidates will provide more than one contact. You would randomly end up contacting hundreds of former managers without even knowing what to ask to spot issues or if the CV you are examining is worth your time. Plus, how can you remember info about candidates without faces in mind?

Here are a few steps you can’t miss when asking reference questions:

  • When starting reference calls, identify who you are and your company, explaining who listed them as a reference and for which position.
  • Arrange a brief discussion about the candidate scheduling enough time from both sides. 
  • Ensure that reference questions and answers will remain confidential.
  • Verify dates of employment, background, and skill sets.
  • Ask an opinion on the candidate based on the position you are offering: will that person fit with that specific role?
  • Give the reference person enough time to answer each question directly and honestly.

5 Top Tips for Checking References

To recap what we said so far, here are 5 top tips for asking reference questions and speeding up the hiring process.  

  1. Always inform your candidate you will check references (This will also scare away people with fake references avoiding extra useless work).
  2. Don’t delegate the reference check to someone else: The project is yours, and you know what type of candidate you need for it.
  3. Take notes: your mind might be a flawless information-storing machine, but handling multiple candidates at once is confusing, and notes always come in handy! 
  4. Make the former manager speak freely with open questions. To spot potential red flags, it is better to have an open conversation than to make negative questions.  
  5. Always expect that people aren’t what they say.

Reminder: We need to accept that people sometimes lie when looking for jobs. Maybe they need money or a fast and temporary solution. Wherever these reasons are, your goal is to find the right person for your project. So, don’t take it personally!

Get Ready for Hiring Process: Best Reference Questions To Ask in 2021

Now, everything is ready for the hiring process and future interviews. You spot a few people that could fit with your team and project. It’s the right moment to ask reference questions, and you have all the know-how. It’s time to set up a video call for references and find out about your candidates – always taking notes, remember?

These are the top questions to ask when checking references: 

  1. What’s the candidate’s employment, title, salary, and core responsibilities? 
  2. Why did you choose this candidate for the role?
  3. Why did she/he leave the company?
  4. Would you take her/him back if you had the chance… and why? 
  5. Could anyone on your team disagree with you?
  6. What are the candidate’s best skills?
  7. How does the candidate interact daily with coworkers and management?
  8. What are the candidate’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  9. Do you have any heads up to manage the candidate better?
  10. Is there anything I should know and didn’t ask?

Remember to always pay attention to any red flags or any inconsistency in the story – There are many Frank Abagnales out there, even if they are not as pretty as Leonardo Di Caprio! 

When you are recruiting, remote or on-site, details are crucial to avoid mistakes and waste time. Asking reference questions is a smart way to make sure the candidate is the right fit for your team. At the end of the day, this long process is to help them with new and brilliant additions to make you grow. And, if you still have no time to go through thousands of CVs and check your findings, we are here to help! 

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Costanza Tagliaferri

Costanza Tagliaferri

Costanza Tagliaferri is a Writer and Content Marketer at DistantJob. She has covered a wide range of topics, and now she is focussing on technology, traveling, and remote work.