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Checking References: Seven Key Questions to Ask During Your Conversation
Hcareers / NOVEMBER 22 2021

You found a candidate who you believe will be a great fit for the job you’re seeking to fill. However, your interview process is not yet complete. It’s always a good idea to do your due diligence and contact the candidate’s references for a deeper dive into their professional skills before you make a job offer.

First thing to keep in mind, to ensure that you get references who aren’t simply the candidate’s best friend, is to ask for specific references who were former supervisors, managers, clients or customers. It’s understandable if they don’t want to reveal their current employer since this job search may not be something their current employer knows about. Therefore, ask the candidate for references from their previous position(s).

Contacting these references gives you the opportunity to explore such factors as the candidate’s work qualifications, responsibilities on the job(s) they held in the past, how well they collaborated with team members, and more. Obtaining details like these helps you make a more-informed decision before you approach the candidate with a final job offer.

Keep in mind that it’s important for you to focus on job performance, not the candidate’s personal life. Avoid any discriminatory questions about their age, familial status, race, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, etc. These are protected classes and therefore, illegal to ask about during a reference check.

So what you can you ask when speaking to a candidate’s references? Here are seven questions to consider:

  1. How do you know the candidate? It’s good to know if the reference is a co-worker, supervisor, manager, former client etc.  and how long they worked together.
  2. Did you work closely with the candidate? And if so, in what capacity? These questions should give you some insight into the candidate’s job title and what their daily responsibilities were on the job.
  3. What would you say are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? While you may have asked the candidate this question during your interview, it’s good to the feedback from those who worked with him/her. You’ll discover if what the candidate expressed is similar to how their colleagues view them.  Here’s where you may get a better sense about their reliability, dependability, timeliness, problem-solving skills, etc.
  4. How well did the candidate work with others? If you’re looking for someone who is a team player, this is an important question to ask.  While you may value someone with the ability to work independently, you also want someone who cooperates, communicates and collaborates with others. And, does so with respect and enthusiasm.
  5. Did the candidate have any notable achievements or promotions that occurred while working there? If so, what were they? By asking this question you may uncover information that the candidate was too humble to tell you. In addition, the answer may reveal whether or not the candidate is motivated and/or goes above and beyond what’s expected of them.
  6. How would you say the candidate does in the following areas? Ask the reference to rate or describe how they feel the candidate does with specific skills/areas that are important to the job you’re hiring for. You’ll find out if they excel or there’s room for improvement.
  7. Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to share with me about the candidate?  This opens up the conversation to topics you may not have thought to ask about.

Whether you’re hiring a customer service representative or a hotel executive for upper management, these seven strategic questions open the doors to insightful answers that can guide you to a confident and wise decision. Good luck with the hiring process moving forward.