Reference checks are generally the last step before you extend a formal offer to a candidate. Learn why you can’t afford not to take these seriously and which specific questions you should be asking references.


Gaining Objective Insights 

Your goal is to learn as much as you can about a potential job candidate. You can get much of this information by looking over their resume, cover letter, portfolio, etc. But of course this information is inherently subjective, and an individual will often embellish their skills and qualifications. As a result, you’re not always getting a clear perspective on what a candidate brings to the table.


Contacting references is a straightforward way to confirm a candidate’s claims and ensure they’re being truthful. You’ll also be able to identify any fake references, which are more common than you think. Any discrepancies should become immediately clear, and you should be able to spot any red flags along the way.


If a person’s story jives with their references’ accounts, then you can make a formal offer with certainty and feel comfortable you’re hiring the right person. However, failing to check references is like opening a can of worms and could come back to haunt you later on. You have no real way of verifying a candidate’s claims, and you could wind up making an ill-fitted hire.


Questions to Ask

 Before mentioning specific questions, it’s important to remember the legalities surrounding this process. For example, you’re not legally allowed to inquire into information that could be deemed discriminatory such as race, age, marital status, disability and religion.


Ideally, you’ll speak with either a current or former boss/manager rather than a colleague because they’ll have key information that will better guide your decision making. With that being said, here are some questions that should shed light on a candidate’s potential:


  • Can you confirm the candidate’s job title, dates of employment and work duties?
  • How would you describe the candidate’s overall job performance?
  • Was there ever a pattern of chronic tardiness or absenteeism?
  • What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Would you ever rehire this candidate?
  • Is there any particular information I should know about the candidate if I choose to hire them?


Reference checks are critically important and should never be overlooked. These particular questions should help you gauge a candidate fairly well and allow you to assess both their skill set and character. If everything checks out and you encounter references with a lot of good things to say, you can move forward confidently when making an offer.


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