How to do a Reference Check and What Reference Check Questions to Ask 

How to do a reference check and what questions to ask jpeg for blog

A reference check takes a few minutes and could prevent you from making an extremely expensive, painful mistake. A candidate's past colleagues are your single best source of information. Because no-one knows how well a candidate can work better than the people who have worked with your candidate before.  Having said that take all references with a pinch of salt because the reference provider isn’t an objective source. Plus be aware of how your role is different to the prior role. 

Note: Using a set of tried and tested reference check questions is the best way to make sure you cover what you need to. If you’d like a free download - click here.

Where Does a Reference Check Fit into the Hiring Process?

A reference check is done when you’ve decided to hire someone as a last check. You don’t do a reference check to decide whether you want to hire someone or not. You do a reference check as the last check to see if you’ve missed anything. 

Sadly many companies don’t supply references anymore. Some firms will not supply anything more than the most basic of factual information such as employment periods and job title. But if you build some rapport you will be able to glean some additional information. So start off with factual information and build up from there. This is also why you must call on the phone. Speaking over the phone gives you a better chance to get off-the-record feedback. 

Top Tips For Doing a Reference Check

Reference Check Tip #1

Don’t write for references, do a personal phone call Opening:

  • Thank the referee;
  • Explain that you are about to hire their past employee and;
  • Build a rapport with the referee.

Reference Check Tip #2

 Start off with easy factual questions.

 Reference Check Tip #3

When you encounter blockages:

  • Ask for off the record responses;
  • Ask what information you can be told.

Reference Check Tip #4

Listen carefully for unspoken communication.

Reference Check Tip #5

Move to more substantive questions including:

  • Results;
  • Colleague relationships;
  • Strengths;
  • Development areas.  

Reference Check Tip #6

Don't forget to ask the most important reference check question. The most important question is “If you were me would you have any concerns is hiring them?”.


Hiring mistakes are costly. A reference check only takes a few minutes and could prevent a bad hire. If you find hiring difficult then the program will show you more proven hiring techniques to make managing easy.


Do you have any questions, comments or suggestions for doing reference checks on job candidates? Help the rest of us out by sharing in the comments below.

The Hiring and Interviewing Series

This is part of the Interviewing and Hiring Series. This series covers how managers can increase employee performance through hiring better employees. And how managers can avoid common hiring mistakes.

Topics in the Series Include:

Other Relevant Resources:

Power Interview Pack: The complete set of interview questions to get the best candidate for the job. Increase employee performance through hiring the best staff and avoiding bad hires. Link here. 

Hiring for Performance: How to hire the best employees and improve employee performance, engagement and retention. Link here.  

Employee Onboarding for Performance: If employee onboarding goes wrong, your new hire may leave you in the lurch or become a demotivated low performer. But motivate and integrate your new hire well and you will have a happy, productive team member. Link here.

Boss Camp

Many people study MBA’s to advance their careers. And in MBA’s you learn about things like marketing, finance, operations and commercial law etc which are really important in business. But what you don’t learn is practical people management techniques like what to do and what to say to your employees. To progress in your career the skill that will do more for you than anything else is the ability to select, motivate and retain employees. That’s why WWW.BOSS.CAMP was invented - to show you what they didn’t teach you in school about managing employees. The program includes topics such as:

  • Ho to hire for performance,
  • How to motivate employees,
  • What are bad employee motivators,
  • What you must do as a manager but isn't on your job description,
  • How leaders get power,