February 01, 2022

What to ask in a reference check to get the truth

Who wants a big loss for the company only because of bad recruitment? 
I think no employer wants this.
According to CareerBuilder,
  • Seventy-four percent of businesses that made a bad hire lost an average of $14,900 per bad hire.
  • A Bad Hire Affects Almost Three-Fourths of Employers
The reference check is your first and, in some cases, only chance to learn about a candidate from a third party. 
It (reference check) can be a great tool to select the right candidate.
If you ask the right questions, then you can get the truth of whether the candidate was really a good employee or not in his previous organizations.
The bad thing is some organizations fail to get the right candidate because of a weak reference check. 
Yes, it happens. 
So, it's crucial to ask the right question.
But what to ask in a reference check to get the truth about your candidate?
How can it be possible?
Don't worry.
You may consider the following best reference check questions.

What to ask in a reference check?

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Asking for a reference check is the easy part. The hard part is getting the truth from the reference. The following questions will help you get to the bottom of things:

How did you work together?

You can verify the statements that the candidate already told you by asking this question. Besides this, you can check the candidate's title and responsibilities.

Did you find him to be a good communicator and listener? Could you please tell this with a real example?

This question serves you two purposes.
You will get some clues of the real scenario. 

Did he (the candidate) obtain any promotions?

If the candidate has got any promotion in his previous or existing organization is a good sign. If not, try to find out the reason. The common reasons are:
-- There was no open position
-- Lack of skills (bad sign)
-- Stronger internal candidates (a possible red flag) etc.

Why did XYZ (candidate's name) decide to leave your company?

Here you can check whether the candidate's statement during the job interview matches with the reference statement.

Would you hire him (the candidate) again?

Listen carefully to what he answers. Is he hesitating? "Definitely" or "absolutely" without any hesitation would be acceptable.

Can you tell me when the candidate worked for your company?

This question will reveal the truth. For example, the candidate worked there for four years, and the previous employer replying the same means your candidate told you the truth regarding this matter during the interview.

What are the candidate's strongest and weakest points?

The best part of this question is that you will get an idea about the candidate and compare the reply from reference with the candidate's answer.

What skills would the candidate need to improve to maximize their potential?

From my point of view, this is one of the best reference check questions I have discussed so far. 
Why am I writing this?
There are a couple of reasons.
  • It will help you understand what skills the candidate doesn't have.
  • Are those skills necessary for the position you want to fill?
  • Additionally, you will get an idea of the candidate's highest capability.
If you're thinking about what to ask in a reference check, you should include this question in your list.

What was the candidate's most outstanding achievement while working with you?

Please add this golden question in your "what to ask in a reference check list."
The answer will indicate the candidates' most outstanding achievement in his previous workplace.
I think it is another best reference check question.

Some other best reference check questions

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What was the nice thing you found in this person?
What do you like least and most about this person?
What do you think of this person's work ethic? 
What does this person need to do to improve?
What do you of this person's leadership skills? 
What is your opinion of this person's ability to work with others?
How do you think this person would fit in with our company?
How would you describe this person's personality?
What is your opinion of this person's ability to get along with others?
How would you describe this person's communication skills?
What is your opinion of this person's ability to learn new things quickly?
How would you rate the candidate’s technical skills? Did he or she have the necessary experience and expertise for the job?
You may include the above questions in your "what to ask in a reference check list.'

Reference check for employment warning signs

The following are some of the warning signs that a reference check may be headed for trouble:

References who have no idea they were being referred to

If the reference would not know that he is a reference, that is a red flag. 

Excessively favorable references

No one can be truly outstanding if they don't have any imperfections. References that are too positive are a warning sign.


If a reference says anything to you that contradicts what the candidate claimed, that's a red flag. To be sure you're not misinterpreting, I usually ask a couple of additional questions.
Depending on its severity, you may provide the candidate an opportunity to explain the distortion.
Serious discrepancies point to deception.

Telling pauses

Suppose you are doing a phone reference. Sometimes two things may happen.
  • The referee is not willing to answer any specific question. Or,
  • Leave long pauses while determining how to structure the response.  
You need to worry (reference check for employment) in both cases.

What should NOT ask in a reference check?

The employer should keep in mind to ask related questions to the reference. Don't ask anything personal. Maintaining this rule during checking references is important.
Now, what should not ask in a reference check?
Please pay attention to the following questions.

Is the candidate a devout follower of the Christian faith? Or, "Can you tell me about their faith?"

Just think, is there any relation with the candidate's workability with this question? The answer must be no, right? 
Not only this, asking this type of question is illegal. You can't ask about the candidate's religious view, church habits, leaders, and religion. 

What is the applicant's age?

Do you think it is a related question? Absolutely not. 
I believe you don't want to show age bias in any way.

Is there any chance they'll have more kids?"

Another unrelated question. If you still have any doubt about what to ask in a reference check, then reread this article, but please don't ask this type of irrelevant question. 

Final thoughts

When conducting a reference check, it’s essential to ask the right questions to find the right person as a future employee. Please ask more in-depth questions to better understand the candidate’s personality and work ethic. 
You have already got some best reference check questions by reading this article, “what to ask in a reference check to get the truth.” Now it's time to choose the right candidate. Wish you the best of luck.
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