Reference checks are often the final step on a hiring managers checklist of steps to take before presenting a candidate with a formal employment offer. But reference checking shouldn’t be seen as a “tick and flick” exercise in the recruitment process – it is a crucial step which can provide you with valuable insight about a candidate’s suitability for the job.


What is a reference check?

A reference check refers to a recruiting process method used by companies to get more information about a candidate by contacting their previous employers and asking a range of questions with the intention to gain independent insights about a candidates previous job performance. It’s a process which can help verify the claims and information provided by the candidate and allow you to make more informed hiring decisions.


Why are reference checks important?

When a candidate interviews well and appears to be an excellent match for the advertised role, it can sometimes be tempting to skip the reference checking step of the recruitment process, especially if you are doing recruitment on top of your usual job – it’s a time-consuming process. Some candidates may even include written references alongside their application which can make it tempting to not bother pursuing a verbal reference.

However, its important to remember that the best decision is an informed decision! When you are coming to the end of the recruitment process and are ready to make a formal offer to a candidate, its important to be making these decisions by utilising all of the facts at your disposal.

A verbal reference check will provide invaluable specifics regarding a candidates previous performance within a workplace, which is often a key predictor of future performance. It will also give you the opportunity to verify that other deciding factors such as values alignment and cultural fit are compatible with your organisation. By conducting a verbal reference check instead of relying on written references, you are also able to probe the referee for answers to specific questions of interest to you, rather than only being provided with generalised information.


What questions should I be asking?

Values based question

Ensuring that the candidate aligns with your company values is a key indicator to determining if the candidate will be a suitable fit for the organisation. Asking a values-based question can help to confirm this. For example, if teamwork is a core value that your company places great emphasis on, ensuring you have a question focused on this will allow the referee to provide you with further insight to if the candidate will be a good cultural fit within the organisation.


Behavior-based question

This will be a question based on how the candidate acted in a specific situation. A question of this nature can gauge how the candidate reacts to stress, and how they conduct themselves in a professional environment. They can also allow the interviewer to get a much better understanding of the candidate. Whilst you may have asked this type of question in the interview process, having employer perspective feedback to complement the candidates responses can help determine suitability for the role.


Opinion based question

No matter how perfect a candidate looks on paper or how much evidence you have that they are a good performer, these are not indicators of personal traits such as integrity, character or temperament. Reference checking is a great way to gauge feedback on these areas. Asking a question regarding the referee’s honest opinion about their experience working with the candidate can allow you to obtain a more broader picture about what it is like to work with the candidate, rather than making a decision solely on performance and achievements.


Fact checking question

The reference checking process is an opportunity to conduct due diligence and ensure that the information a candidate has provided about themselves is indeed true and correct. This is particularly important if there are skills/experience/knowledge that a candidate must possess to be eligible for the role they are applying for. Confirming this during a reference check is a great way to fact check candidate details.


Performance based question

Hearing first hand from a referee how a candidate has performed in a particular situation can provide valuable information to a prospective employer. Evaluating a candidates past performance is a crucial indicator to help indicate future success. Therefore, by asking a referee to discuss the candidates performance and provide feedback about specific areas of performance, you are able to corroborate information obtained during the interview process, and also receive this information objectively rather than solely relying on it from the interview process.




The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.