What Reference Check Questions Can Employers Ask?
Interview Questions and Answer

What Reference Check Questions Can Employers Ask?

As a component of an employment screening process, employers or third-party employment screening providers are allowed to perform a professional reference check. It’s at the time of this phase lots of hiring managers and candidates asks: 

  • What are some basic reference check questions? 
  • What questions are references asked by employers? 
  • When doing a reference check, what questions should I ask?

Unlike Employment Verifications, reference check questions are a lot more extensive and offer a way more detailed insight into the candidate’s work history and qualifications. Although as equally important, Employment Verifications only confirm the information submitted by the candidate, such as dates of employment (start and end) and job titles, solely for the purpose of ensuring candidates aren’t dishonest on their resumes.

On the other hand, reference checks consist of more specific questions about candidates’ work histories and further details like their job responsibilities, work ethic, and character. All of the aforementioned are vital information when deciding who will be a good fit for a position and your company. 

So, let’s delve into the questions potential employers ask references?

In this article, we’d be breaking down the kinds of reference check questions that may be asked during a screening process.

Typical Reference Check Questions

As a recruiter, you most likely would have a go-to list of basic questions you ask to better understand the candidates, their references, and their working relationship. Having information about how closely a reference worked or works with the candidate usually makes a huge difference in the information they reveal and how you can use that when making your hiring decisions.

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For example, if a reference worked daily with the candidate, they’ll have a better understanding of who the candidate is and how they performed at work. But when a reference is significantly distanced from the candidate (i.e., no direct link, of higher-level management, or on a different team), they would not have as much in-depth knowledge.

With the highlighted scenarios in mind, recruiters may ask questions like:

  • How do you know the candidate?
  • How well did you work with the candidate?
  • How did the candidate’s employment end? 
  • What were the job titles or roles of the candidate?
  • How long did they spend in each role?
  • Did they receive any promotions at the company?
  • Does the candidate have the job skills needed for this position?
  • Did the candidate have any major accomplishments while working with you?
  • If given the chance, Would you rehire the candidate?
  • Would you recommend the candidate for employment with another company? Why or why not?

Work Ethic & Experience Reference Check Questions

After you’ve understood the working relationship between the candidate and reference, you’ll need to obtain knowledge about specific work skills, experience, responsibilities, and work ethic. Some of those questions should include:

  • What are the duties and responsibilities of the candidate daily?
  • What is a normal workday like for the candidate?
  • How would you grade the candidate’s written and oral communication skills?
  • How would you grade the candidate’s listening skills?
  • We need a candidate who has [these specific skills]. How would you grade the candidate on these?
  • What skills do you think the candidate should improve upon?
  • Describe the candidate’s ability to communicate across teams.
  • What are the greatest strengths the candidate brings to your team/company?
  • What are some obstacles the candidate experienced or experiences?
  • What are the candidate’s main areas or opportunities for growth?
  • How well does the candidate manage their time?
  • Describe the candidate’s ability to prioritize.
  • How would you grade the candidate’s general job performance?
  • Is there something else you would like to add about the candidate we didn’t cover?
  • Is there another co-worker or colleague I should speak with?

And yes, you can elaborate or ask much more questions to better know the candidate’s skills and how they relate to the job they’re vying for.
For example, if the candidate applied for a management position, you mostly should ask specific questions, like: 

  • How many people were managed by the candidate?
  • How would the leadership style of the candidate would be described?
  • Did the candidate ever experience any conflicts with their subordinates or colleagues?

Character Reference Check Questions

While possessing the required work skills and experience is crucial to any role, you also want to feel self-assured that you’re employing a candidate who is pleasant to work with and will have a positive impact on your team and company.
In other words, you’d want to know:

  • What their personality is like
  • What their character is like?
  • Whether their ethics and values align with that of the company
  • How they would perform when they’re faced with adversity

Reference check questions that specifically evaluate a candidate’s character are evidently not off-limits for employers, and if not used appropriately would give signs of what constitutes a bad or good reference check for candidates.
If anything, these questions are the most telling when it comes to making the decision of whether to move forward with a candidate or pass on them altogether. Some character-related reference check questions may include:

  • Describe your experience working with this candidate?
  • How would you grade the candidate when it comes to reliability? Dependability? Honesty? Trustworthiness?
  • Describe the candidate’s working relationships with co-workers.
  • How does the candidate handle stress inducing situations? 
  • What are the candidate’s strongest attributes?
  • How would you grade the candidate as regards to being a team player?
  • How would you grade the candidate’s ability to remain versatile?
  • What kind of work environment does the candidate perform best in?
  • Overall, can you recommend this candidate for the position?

Knowing what questions to ask during reference checks can be overwhelming sometimes. You want to make sure you’re asking the right questions and in the right manner to arm yourself with the information needed to make strategic hiring decisions. 

Additionally, you want to be compliant with the rules of engagement during in-depth reference checks, and steering clear of questions that are off-limits, and following all the pre-adverse action and adverse action steps as drawn out by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) if you decide not to hire.