How to do a Reference Check? Ultimate Guidance to Reference Checks

When candidates submit their applications with all their astounding credentials, they might be requested to provide a list of references upon their application. Employers will often use these references to fact-check the claims in the resume with a reference check in order to make sure that they hire the candidate that indeed upholds the enlisted skills and expertise.

What Is a Reference on Resume?

The reference on the candidate’s resume is the list of contacts from which the recruiter can contact to verify the claims in your resume. Candidates can include contacts that they have worked with professionally. That is, their previous supervisor, colleagues, or employees.

Recruiters normally conduct reference checks on candidates that they are considering hiring to better approximate the hiring decision. Since reference checks can be very costly and time consuming, employers usually conduct them at the very last stage of the hiring process.

What Is a Reference Check?

References check is a part of the hiring process where recruiters will contact the enlisted references on your resume to gather educational and employment information to help them evaluate the employability of a candidate, while the contacted references can be the candidate’s previous employers, supervisors, or your school.

What Are the Benefits of Reference Checks?

Reference checks help the employers to better evaluate each potential candidate. Generally speaking, reference checks’ sole purpose is to know the candidate in a third-person narrative, and by doing so recruiters can form a hiring decision that is more objective and unbiased. The following aspects are what a reference check can provide:

  • Validity Check: Recruiters use reference checks to confirm the accuracy of the claims and credentials in the given resume to avoid one-sided information solely from the applicant, which can potentially be fabricated.
  • Role Assessment: A  reference check is more than just fact-checking. It is a further investigation on the applicant's fitness to the company. The feedback that the recruiter will gather from the reference offers some insights on the potential performance of the candidates as these feedbacks reflect extensively on the candidate’s work ethics and character.
  • Company Safety: Any false claims or unreported bad behaviors from the candidates, are potential risks to the operating team and the work environment. A proper reference check can help the employer avert these potential risks and to further protect the company.

Things to Consider before Conducting a Reference Check

Conducting a reference check is a taxing operation. Not only does the process include many techniques regarding human resource, but it also includes a long list of preparation. Therefore, to ensure a successful and fruitful result of a reference check, here are some considerations that recruiters and employers ought to evaluate beforehand.

The Candidate’s Interview Feedback

Consult your interview team before conducting a reference check can drastically increase the quality of the process as it provides a more well-rounded perspective on the candidate. Furthermore, their feedback can also give you insights on what information you should prioritize and who you should obtain the information from.

The Reference’s Background

Your reference check should focus on references that can address the questions you hav.. Preview the given reference and evaluate their relationship with the candidate and whether that relationship is beneficial for the information intended, and the legal requirement that you should pay attention to in reaching out to this individual.

Reference Checking Methods

Provide necessary information for the references before the interview, while avoiding simple email questions as they tend to be insufficient in gleaning meaningful information for your  purpose of evaluation. Online interviews or telephone interviews are much more efficient and effective.

Administration Cost

In addition to the precious time that it  requires to reserve for conducting a reference check, employers might need to appoint a HR professional to oversee or prepare the reference checks. Yet, the actual cost of telephone calls on online interviews are rather trivial in comparison to the benefit of such reference checks.

Questions to Ask when Checking Reference

The time of both you and the reference are extremely valuable, and thus the questions asked during the reference check are critical to the quality and efficiency of the interview. It takes certain preparation and practice to conduct a productive reference check.

Ask Open-ended and Specific Questions

As the role of thumb, avoid asking broad questions, such as “What do you think about [candidate]?” Unspecific questions like this are ambiguous, and thus the quality of the answer is often inferior and vague. Questions such as “Can you please tell us more about the candidate’s responsibilities and leadership style as the head of this particular project?”, are instead more informative and constructive.

Examples of Reference Check Questions

  • The following examples are good questions to ask during a reference check:
  • What value did the candidate contribute to your team?
  • Were there any areas that you wish that the candidate could have improved in?
  • As I am describing the candidate’s portfolio to you, do you agree with the description and if so, can you give me some backstories with respect to that?
  • In what capacity have you worked with the candidate?
  • How did the candidate interact within your team, and with the management?
  • Were there any incidents of conflict between the candidate and any other personnel in your operation?
  • What would be the candidate’s greatest strength and weakness in your opinion?
  • How long had you worked with the candidate?
  • Can you tell me more about the candidate’s work ethic?
  • Would you say that the candidate is a good fit for this position? And can you provide us some insights with respect to your answer?
  • Would you consider re-hiring the candidate?
  • How did the candidate manage new employees?
  • What was the candidate’s accomplishment during their employment that you can recall?
  • Could you provide an example of the way that the candidate operates under stressful situations?
  • How was it like to communicate and work with the candidate? And what does that relationship look like between the candidate and other team members?

Tips for How to Do Reference Checks

Conducting a reference check is no easy task. In addition to the laborious process of preparation, the interviewer’s execution will determine the overall quality and efficiency of the reference check. The following takeaways are good practice for the interviewer to include in their reference checking procedure to smoothen the operation.

💡 Provide Job Description

One of the main objectives of a reference check is to evaluate the fitness of the candidate according to the information provided by the reference. To obtain more insightful responses, the employer ought to provide sufficient information to the reference, by providing a job description that allows reference to give feedback that is better approximated.

💡 Ask Specific Questions

Time management is one of the major difficulties in conducting a reference check. Therefore, the questions asked during the interview are crucial in avoiding unnecessary waste of time caused by vague and broad questions and thus ambiguous answers. Curate a set of questions that will result in meaningful insights for the evaluation of the candidate’s competence.

💡 Do not Show Skepticism and/ or Negativity

The response of the reference might not resonate with your impression of the candidate.Yet, employers or recruiters should remain professional by avoiding showing any negative responses or doubt as such expression might discourage the reference to continue the interview or provide genuine answers.

💡 Be Respectful to the Reference’s Time

The reference is doing a great favor to the employer by taking a moment of their precious time to help you make a better decision. The employer should respect such generosity by making sure all procedures and documents are previewed to avoid any technical hiccups and being punctual to avoid wasting the reference’s time.

💡 Listening without Interruption

As a general technique in interviewing, it is the interviewer’s job to ensure a professional flow of the interview process. Interruption is a major red flag in conducting an interview as they will generate unpleasant feedback in the interviewee, and subsequently affect the quality of their answers and impression of your company.


From the preparation of the reference checks to the actual execution of it, employers must pay close attention to many details within the whole process of the reference check to deliver a successful interview. To sum up the many aspects in this article, the following points are some of the key points that we believe that the readers should take note of.

  • Preparation Is Crucia: Not only should the employers collect opinions from different parties to ensure a constructive reference check, but it requires a meticulous calculation of time and resources to justify the administration cost of it. Furthermore, a good preparation can also help reduce any friction during the interview.
  • Ask Specific, Open-ended Questions: As mentioned before, the quality of your questions dictates the quality of the result obtained from such a reference check. Relevance and specification are essential in getting answers that are insightful. Moreover, open-ended questions give the reference more freedom to provide genuine and complete answers that will result in perspicacious information.
  • Professionalism in Conducting Reference Checks: As the conductor of the reference check, there is a certain set of behavior that the employer should follow to not only attain better results of the interview but leave a professional impression to the interviewee. Punctuality and manner are influential factors to the results of the reference check, and the impression that you will leave.

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— Originally written by Jim Mao —

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