5 Essential Reference Check Questions

Interviewing and hiring can be a seriously time-consuming hassle. In many cases, by the time you reach the reference check stage you’ve already made your decision. This kind of thinking can make the reference check a tedious formality, a box to be ticked that rarely provides any valuable information. However, it may be more important than you think.

A reference check should be an important step in any employer’s due diligence process. Done properly, a good reference check can be the difference between hiring the perfect candidate and making a costly mistake.

Besides the interview and any social media and background checks, the reference check may be your only opportunity to find out more about the candidate from someone who’s actually worked with them. It’s a vital step in any good labour hire process, but one that’s all too often mishandled or ignored.

So, how do you get the most from a reference check? Well, we have a few tips and some essential questions you should ask.

Make sure you’re talk to the right people

Before calling any references, you should first find out from the candidate precisely who their references are and what are their relationships to the candidate. A former manager will obviously be a much better reference than a work mate or friend.

If you’re unsure about the quality of the references, you can always ask the candidate for a little background on their listed references. You may even ask if they’re willing to provide additional references.

Many companies have policies that discourage managers from providing references to former staff members. In cases like this, the references will often go through the human resources department and you may end up speaking to an HR representative who may never have actually worked with the candidate. In these situations, you can probably expect fairly generic, HR-approved responses to most questions, rather than the personal and professional insight you might get from a manager that the candidate has worked with directly.

In some cases you may be tempted to skip the listed references in favour of your own contacts who may know the candidate. While it may seem like you’ll get the unvarnished truth from these sources, it’s not the best way to build trust with someone who may be your new employee. You may also be speaking to someone who doesn’t have a fair assessment of the candidate.

It’s also good practice to ask the candidate if you may contact their references. It helps to establish trust and gives the candidate a chance to let their references know to expect a call.

Phone call etiquette

It’s important to remember that the reference is doing you a favour. They aren’t being interviewed and they don’t owe you anything. So, if you want to get the best information from the reference professional etiquette is essential.

Firstly, you should always introduce yourself and clearly state that you’re calling for a reference check on behalf of the candidate. Find out if the reference was expecting the call and make sure it’s a good time for the reference to chat. If not, offer to call back.

Provide a bit of detail about your company and the role the candidate is interviewing for. Providing context for the reference will help them to understand whether the candidate is really suited to the job or company they are interviewing for.

It’s also worth mentioning that anything the reference says will be kept in strict confidence and will not be passed on to the candidate.

With the introductory stuff out of the way, you can dive into the questions. While it helps to cover a wide range of ground with your questions, remember to steer clear of any questions that could be seen as discriminatory, such as questions about the candidate’s age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, family status and so on.

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Ask the useful questions

Once you have the reference on the phone, don’t dive straight into the tough questions. It’s worth giving the reference a chance to get comfortable before you really get into a deeper assessment of the candidate. Start with asking for some background information with a question like:

  1. Can you tell me a bit about your work with the candidate?

This will give the reference a chance to talk about their company, their work and candidate’s prior role. It will give you a chance to compare the duties, responsibilities and experience that the reference discusses with what the candidate outlined in the interview.

You should also take the opportunity to ask about the candidate’s major accomplishments. This will give the reference a chance to discuss the candidate’s qualities, skills and expertise. A reference check shouldn’t be viewed as an opportunity to undermine or catch out the candidate. It should be used to assess their strengths and what they can bring to the company, just as much as their weaknesses. So, next question:

  1. What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?

Chances are you asked the candidate this very question in the interview. But getting a third party’s perspective can be useful for comparing the candidate’s self assessment with that of a work colleague or manager.

It’s also worth finding out how the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses positively or negatively affected their work and their interactions with clients or colleagues.

  1. What type of work environment would the candidate be most likely to thrive in and why?

It’s important to remember that when interviewing a candidate, you’re not just trying to determine if they’re the right person for the job. You also want to make sure that your company is the right place for them. If the candidate isn’t suited to your work style or environment, you may not be able to get the best out of them and they may not last long in the role before moving on. You can also have a look on some benefits of using skilled recruitment company.

  1. What areas or skills would you like to see the candidate develop?

If you’re aware of any gaps in the candidate’s skillset, you will have a more detailed knowledge of their abilities and their suitability for the role.

  1. How well does the candidate work with others?

In just about any role, the ability to work with others can be just as important as skills or experience. Find out a bit about the candidate’s interpersonal skills, how they deal with conflict and what they’re like to work with on a personal level.

A reference check is a valuable opportunity to find out if your candidate is right for the job, and if your job is right for the candidate. If done properly, a good reference check can help you avoid hiring someone who isn’t right for the role or confirm your decision that you’ve found the perfect candidate.

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