8 min read

Questions To Ask When Checking References

Role-specific reference check questionnaires are essential for employers to assess a candidate's suitability for a position by gathering targeted information from references, ensuring fairness, consistency, and legal compliance throughout the hiring process.

Whether you're new to reference checking or have been in the practice for years, it's tempting to simplify the hiring process with generic, catch-all reference check templates. Picture this: an impressive candidate is almost within grasp, and there's just one final task - the reference check.

We've all been in that situation: the ideal candidate stands before us, and the final hurdle is the reference check. In our eagerness, we may hastily reach for the phone or dispatch a survey laden with generic questions like, "Were they punctual?" or "Did you have any concerns about their performance?" While these questions aren't inherently wrong, they seldom provide Valuable insights.


Lets take a marketing manager as an example, wouldn't you rather be certain that they can adeptly handle a large advertising budget? Or that they have the expertise in devising organization-wide marketing strategies?

Enter the power of role-specific questionnaires.

Though it might feel labor-intensive initially, crafting role-centric questions is an investment. The last thing any recruiter wants is the post-hire realization that a candidate embellished their CV or isn't a fit – an oversight often attributed to overlooking nuances that aren't explicitly outlined in the job description.


Role-Specific Reference Check Question Example's:

Here are a few real-world examples to illustrate the importance of well-crafted role-specific reference check questions:
Forklift driver:
Despite possessing a high-reach licence, the hired individual lacked experience with high-reach forklifts. At their previous workplaces, they had operated only standard forklifts.
Question to Ask: "Has the candidate operated a high-reach forklift in a professional setting, and for how long?"

Real Estate:
While the rental agent claimed expertise in commercial properties, they showed a significant lack of knowledge regarding commercial leasing terminologies.
Question to Ask: "Can you provide examples of commercial leasing deals the candidate has managed?"

Marketing Manager:
The candidate exaggerated their experience with managing large ad budgets. In their previous role, they only made suggestions to the finance team and lacked firsthand experience in tracking ad profitability and setting budgets optimized for business goals.
Question to Ask: "Did the candidate manage large ad budgets and play an active role in ad spend strategies?"


Identifying Key Competencies And Qualities During A Ref Check:

Creating an effective role-specific reference check questionnaire requires a systematic approach. Before diving into questionnaire creation, it is crucial to collaborate with the hiring team to identify the key competencies, skills, experience, and traits necessary for success in the role. This understanding serves as a foundation for shaping the questions and conducting a thorough evaluation of the candidate's suitability for the position. By engaging with the hiring team, you can gain insights into the critical requirements of the role, such as excellent communication skills, persuasiveness, or strong negotiation abilities. Armed with this knowledge, you can craft questions that specifically address how the candidate has demonstrated these skills in their previous job experiences, enabling you to assess their capabilities in areas directly relevant to the role.

Tailoring the reference check questions to the identified competencies allows you to gather valuable information from references that provides insights into the candidate's aptitude and potential for success. By aligning the questions with the specific requirements of the role, you can ensure that the reference check process is targeted and effective in assessing the candidate's fit for the position. This approach enhances the evaluation process and enables you to make well-informed hiring decisions based on reliable and relevant information provided by references. By following this systematic approach, you can create a role-specific reference check questionnaire that captures the essential aspects of the candidate's qualifications, experiences, and abilities, ultimately enhancing the hiring process.


Reference Check Questions To Ask

While designing role-specific questionnaires, the emphasis should be on formulating pertinent questions that offer a glimpse into the candidate's capabilities. Here's a guideline:

Tailor Questions to the Role:
Questions should address the distinct responsibilities and demands of the position. If teamwork is a cornerstone, ask about the candidate's collaborative efforts.
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For a sales position: "How would you describe the candidate's ability to handle rejection from potential clients?"
For an IT role: "Can you provide an example of a critical system issue the candidate resolved?"

Open-ended Questions:
These allow for in-depth responses, as opposed to binary yes/no answers. Rather than just inquiring about punctuality, delve into the candidate's reliability demonstration at their previous job.
"Can you describe how the candidate managed their time and responsibilities to meet deadlines?"

Seek Concrete Examples:
Encourage the reference to provide instances showcasing the candidate's performance.

"Can you recall a specific project where the candidate showcased exemplary leadership?"
"Were there any instances where the candidate did not deliver on a target or goal?"
Behavioral-based Questions: These queries uncover how the candidate reacted in scenarios pertinent to the role.

"Describe a situation where the candidate was faced with a tight deadline. How did they handle it?"
"Can you recall a time when the candidate had to manage a conflict within the team? What was their approach?"
Cultural Fit Assessment: Gauge the candidate's alignment with the company culture and values.

"How did the candidate contribute to the team or company culture at your organization?"

"Can you provide an example of how the candidate adapted to a significant change in the company or department?"
Keep it Legal: Questions should comply with legal standards, focusing solely on the candidate's professional journey.

Our Guide to Legal implications of a reference check


Standardize the Questionnaire:

To ensure fairness and consistency, standardize the reference check questionnaire for each role. This approach allows for easy comparison of feedback between candidates and helps establish clear evaluation criteria.


Encouraging Open and Honest Feedback:

When requesting references to complete the questionnaire, emphasize the importance of providing candid and objective feedback. Encourage them to provide honest insights into the candidate's strengths, areas for improvement, and overall suitability for the role.

Seek Consistency:

To get a well-rounded view of the candidate, it is recommended to ask multiple references the same questions. This will help to ensure that the responses are consistent and provide a reliable account of the candidate's strengths and weaknesses.

Maintaining Confidentiality and Compliance:

Respect the privacy and confidentiality of both the candidate and the references throughout the reference check process. Adhere to legal and compliance regulations, ensuring that all information is handled securely and in accordance with applicable data protection laws.


In conclusion, crafting role-specific reference check questionnaires is a crucial step in the hiring process as it allows employers to gather targeted insights into a candidate's capabilities, work style, and cultural fit. By identifying the key competencies and qualities necessary for success in the role, employers can design questions that elicit meaningful responses from references. Seeking specific examples and concrete evidence helps validate the candidate's claims and provides valuable information for evaluation.

It is important for employers to maintain legal compliance and respect confidentiality throughout the reference check process. Adhering to applicable data protection laws and ensuring secure handling of information protects the privacy of both the candidate and the references involved. Additionally, standardizing the reference check questionnaire and evaluation criteria promotes fairness and consistency in the hiring process, allowing for easier comparison of feedback between candidates.

By following the tips outlined in this article, employers can create effective role-specific reference check questionnaires that streamline the hiring process, save time, and ultimately lead to successful and well-aligned hires. These tailored questionnaires enable employers to make informed decisions and identify the most suitable candidates who possess the necessary skills, experience, and qualities required for the role.

Check our free downloadable reference check templates!

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