Checking Candidate References


You’re nearing the end of your recruitment process and think you’ve found the ideal candidate.  Their resume is great and they presented well during the interview(s), but how can you be sure that what you’ve seen and read over the past couple of weeks accurately reflects how they will perform once employed?  To be honest – you can never be sure until they commence working with you.  However, by speaking with the candidate’s referees – checking their references – you will get a better understanding of their prior work performance, which may provide some comfort around your decision to hire, or not.

So what should you ask the referees?  One purpose of a reference check is to confirm details and information provided to you by the candidate.  It is this information that heavily influences your decision so you want to know that it is correct.  Another is to obtain an unbiased view of previous work performance, so with this in mind here are some general questions to ask, along with any other role/industry/skills specific queries you may have.

What is your relationship to the candidate?

You’re looking for an unbiased reference from someone in a good position to provide it.  Ideally this will be a previous manager/supervisor with no personal connection to the candidate.  If this is not the case you will need to decide how much weight to give their responses.

Can you please advise the candidate’s job title period of employment, main duties and why they left?

This will confirm the details provided to you by the candidate.  You want them to match – if they don’t you may not be able to rely on any other information given by the candidate

Can you describe their work performance?  Were they accountable, reliable, punctual….

Responses to these questions give you an idea as to how the candidate will work and what you can expect.  It may also give you an idea as to how they will fit in with current staff and management. 

What were their strengths and weaknesses?

It’s most likely that the role you’re filling requires a variety of skills – some more important than others.  Everyone has weaknesses, and you need to know if the candidate’s weakness relates to a skill that is essential to the role and how the candidate manages this weakness.

Would you re-employ them?

A ‘no’ to this question should raise a red flag and prompt further questions.

Is there anything else I should know?

Referees have an obligation not to misrepresent the candidate when providing a reference (and could face legal action by doing so).  If there is a significant issue or past behaviour that would negatively affect their employment, that hasn’t been discussed by earlier questions, this is their chance to raise it


Some referees may choose not to provide anything more that a statement of employment.  Others may only answer direct questions or decline to answer certain questions, whilst some will be more than willing to answer any question put to them and provide further detail.  It is up to you how you manage references (or a lack of), in your overall recruitment process, remembering that the reference checks are only one piece of the puzzle .


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Disclaimer:  Blogs posted by MMO HR Solutions are for information purposes only and do not constitute professional advice.  The reading/use of any blog posts does not form a consultant-client relationship and such reading/use should not be used as a substitute for professional advice.