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5 Key Questions You Should Ask When Reference Checking



Whatever the position, five key questions will improve the outcome of any thorough reference checking process.

5 Type of questions you should ask when checking references

1. Understand the candidate/referee relationship

branded part 1, candidate/referee relationship graphic

You need to get a clear understanding of the relationship between the candidate and the referee, so you can judge the reliability and relevance of their feedback and how it relates to the candidate’s potential new role.

Request details to verify:

  • When they worked together and in what capacity.
  • The nature of their relationship and the reporting line.


  • What is the period your working relationship covered?
  • What was the nature of the working relationship and what was the reporting line?

2. Verify the role and employment details

Branded part 2, role and employment graphic

Job-hungry candidates can be prone to a little exaggeration. So, you must confirm that the information on their CV is accurate.

Explore areas such as:

  • The candidate's job title and role.
  • Their general duties and responsibilities.


  • What was the candidates title?
  • What was the focus of the role as well as main duties and responsibilities?

3. Assess the candidate’s previous performance

Branded part 3, previous performance graphic

A CV can be tailored to fit a role, it’s only when you ask a previous employer for their perspective on a candidate in a properly conducted reference check that you can have the big picture of a proper assessment of their skills and how well they might perform in your business.

Ask questions that will:

  • Reveal the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Uncover potential areas for improvement.


  • Can you please talk about the strengths of the candidate?
  • What are the areas of opportunity for this candidate?

4. Confirm the candidate’s reasons for leaving

Branded part 4, reasons for leaving graphic

Understanding why and when a candidate left a previous role can offer a new employer some insight into the lasting impression they’ve left with a previous employer.

Consider questions that confirm:

  • The reason (if known) why the candidate left.
  • Whether the reference provider would hire them again.


  • What was the reason for this person to leave the company?
  • Would you hire this person again and why?

5. Seek additional information & confirm the referee’s responses

Branded part 5, additional information graphic

It’s important to allow the referee to provide any further information they feel is relevant but falls outside the questions you ask. This final phase also offers the opportunity to ask the referee if they are happy to be contacted at a later date.

Take the opportunity to:

  • Ask for any further comments.
  • Confirm if the reference provider is happy to be contacted again for additional details.
  • Asking for examples of how the candidate handled particular situations is also a good idea.


  • Are there any other comments that you would like to add?
  • Do you remember a way on how this candidate handled a situation like...?

Why Conduct Reference Checks?

Bias, unconscious or not, is one of the key reasons why it is vital to not only conduct employment reference checks but ensure you ask the right questions when you do.

A resume will give you an idea of career achievements and qualifications, while an interview will help you to get to know a candidate in person.

A reference check acts as the source of truth, allowing you to verify what you’ve been told and help you explore any potential strengths or weaknesses.

When Should You Request a Reference Check?

The best time to conduct a reference may depend on the industry.

If you’re working in an environment with high staff turnover and a focus on lower-skilled/entry-level jobs, you could conduct references as part of the application process.

In this case, the reference checking process helps to filter candidates before investing too much time interviewing.

Alternatively, for professional, higher-skilled positions, references are usually requested once a job offer has been verbally accepted.

It would be best if you always let candidates know when you plan to request a reference so they can advise their referees. Anxiety is usually high at this stage in the recruitment process so it helps to let candidates know how long the reference checking process may take. When using automated reference checks, the average turnaround time can be reduced to as little as 24 hours.

When done well, reference checking can provide you with insightful and instructive data to help you identify strengths, training needs and weaknesses. It’s also essential in demonstrating your due diligence on a candidate and ensuring you make confident hiring or placement decisions.

Automated reference checking solutions, like Xref, streamline the process, reduce your time to hire and add a layer of security to your reference checks. Learn more about the Xref platform >>

If you want help building your own questionnaire following best practices, try our questions template builder, it will help you cover all the basics when checking references for your future hires.

Other resources that you may find helpful:

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