While many candidates can sell themselves very convincingly in their written resume and interviews, a second or third opinion is still a valuable asset for several reasons. Referees can verify the basics – that they’re telling the truth, for a start, and further, that they have potential to be a good cultural fit.

Carrying out a reference check is also necessary for due diligence in hiring – if anything goes wrong with the hire down the track, HR and the hiring manager can demonstrate they did everything possible to mitigate any problems.

Here are five topics to cover when asking reference check questions:

1. The basics

First, confirm the basics: how long the candidate worked for them and in what capacity; the job title and responsibilities; what your relationship at work was (i.e. direct manager, colleague, or something else) and where they worked prior to your organisation.

2. Financials 

It may be appropriate to ask what the candidate’s salary, bonuses, incentives or overtime were. Bear in mind that the referee may not have these figures to hand so offer the option of following up later or via email.

3. Strengths 

Ask about the things they did best in the role. Why would the referee recommend them in particular? What did they bring to the role/team/organisation? Follow up on specifics from the interview.

4. Weaknesses

It’s also important to delve into the downsides of this candidate. Consider aspects like how they worked with other members of the team – was there anyone they clashed with? Why?

5. Personality

What is their work ethic like? How do they tackle problems? Would you hire this person again? A good referee will be able to shed light on how well the potential employee might fit into your organisation.

Remember to keep the reference check conversation brief – a job referee will likely be a very busy person, and this conversation is a professional courtesy but by no means an obligation.

Check out our management advice hub for more advice.

Summary: 

In a brief space of time, you need to get through a lot to vet a potential hire. Make sure your questions cover the following bases:

  •  Verify the facts of the candidates stated job experience
  •  Ask about their salary details
  •  Follow up on their strengths as stated in the interview or resume
  •  Dig into any weaknesses to watch out for
  •  Ask about their personality as a colleague and an employee
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