QUESTIONS TO ASK REFERENCES: 20+ Reference Checks You Need to Know

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Interviewers go to the extent of contacting those references provided by the candidates in their Resume to ask some verifying questions. It may seem like a mere formality, but it’s really not. This is in a bit to confirm whether or not the information provided by the job seekers is in line with what they (references) have to say. This process of verifying the information is necessary and further determines the employees ‘fate’ in the company. Contained in this article is a guide to the appropriate questions to ask regarding references on the employee’s Resume. Of course, there are questions not to ask. Read along to find out.

Questions to Ask References

#1. Verify the candidate’s name

First things first, when contacting a reference, be sure you verify the candidate’s name. This step might seem obvious, but you never know if it’ll weed out dishonest candidates. If you’re reaching out to a previous employer, make sure you also verify their title and dates of employment.

#2. Confirm how they know the candidate

Depending on your requirements, candidates might provide a list of different types of references, for example, your business might require that the candidate gives at least two personal references in addition to two professional references. While contacting each reference, verify how they know the candidate.

That way, you can cross-check the details about the references that your candidate provided to you. And it also helps verify who you’re speaking with.

#3. Ask what makes the candidate a good fit

The last thing you want to do is hire someone unqualified. Instead, use your time with the candidate’s reference to measure whether or not the candidate will be a good fit for the position. When you’re verifying the candidates, explain the scope of the job to the reference and ask them whether or not they believe the candidates would thrive in the position and why.

In addition, listen to the reference’s response and be sure to watch out for indicators that they’re not 100% honest with you. 

#4. Have the reference rate the candidate

You should have a variety of reference check questions prepared when you contact a candidate’s reference. Some of these might include open-ended questions, short-answer questions, and multiple-choice questions that use a scale ranking from 1-10.

Requiring the reference to rank the candidate can give you an easy way to get an honest answer from a reference. With ranking questions, the reference has to think about their response because they’re only giving a number.

#5. Find out the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses

The major goal of contacting references to ask verifying questions should be to find out the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses along with other sets of questions. The interviewer should make sure to specifically ask the reference to list the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

For example, ask the reference to tell you two strengths and two weaknesses or growth opportunities for the candidate. In essence, being straightforward about strengths and weaknesses can also tell you if the candidate is compatible with the job’s requirements and necessary skills.

What is a Reference Check?

Reference checks are an essential part of the hiring process where an employer contacts an applicant’s previous employers, schools, and other individuals (e.g., personal references) to learn more about the candidate.

Reference Checks Tips

Want to kick your reference check process into high gear? Do these:

#1. Inform the candidates ahead about checking references.

Want an easy way to weed out candidates with poor references or problems to hide?  Be upfront about the reference check and you may find that your candidate list shrinks itself. The people that you interview will tend to be more accurate and honest during the interview process. Add this tip to your reference best practices and knowledge base.

#2. Don’t assign the reference to someone else.

We are all busy and it may not seem like a big deal to delegate previous employer reference checks to HR because it could be a huge mistake. As an employer, you know exactly what you are looking for in an employee and no one else will ask the same questions in quite the way you would. It could be a casual remark made about the candidate that may reveal something that clashes with your company’s culture—something you would have missed had someone else conducted the professional reference check.

#3. Be attentive and take detailed notes.

When speaking with a candidate’s former hiring manager,, it is important to take detailed notes of the conversation especially if you are talking to multiple managers for multiple candidates. You never know when you might need to refer back to your notes when evaluating the candidate for a potential hire, so don’t miss this important step.

Conduct at least 2 or 3 reference checks from the most recent managers/supervisors of the candidate. If one reference is great and you get a mixed review on the other one, it is best to get a third reference before making a final decision for the complete picture.

#4. Conduct reference checks by phone.

Pick up the phone when conducting a reference check about previous work experience. This way, you don’t miss out on tone and inflection, and misinterpret content like you do when using email or texts. You may also miss out on warning signs as only a phone conversation will reveal.

It’s unlikely a candidate’s reference will reveal something negative in writing because they don’t want liability issues. Also, enthusiasm is difficult to distinguish and you can’t hear hesitation to an answer by reading the response through email.

#5. Start off with easy questions

Warm up with some easy questions (“How long did you work together”) before diving into the main ones. Always pay attention to your wording rather than asking. “What do you feel are Natha’s biggest weaknesses?” Or “What do you feel Nathan needs to do to further his career?

Ask questions in a positive way rather than trying to sniff out problems. An example of what not to ask would be “Nathan got along with his coworkers correct?” Instead, frame the question as “How did Nathan interact with fellow team members”? And assure them of confidentiality.

#6. Verify employment dates

Make sure the employment dates listed on the resume are the correct dates when you verify them with the manager. Interviewers often talk to candidates who say they worked at their last company for 2 years when it was only 2 months. Sometimes the last position on a candidate’s resume will say 2017 to present, when really that position ended in 2018 and it is currently 2020. This is a vital piece of the reference-checking process.

#7. Be on guard for fake references

Candidates that have burned bridges at previous positions with former employers or just have a terrible attitude and work ethic will oftentimes provide fake managerial references using a former colleague or a list of references with faked contact information. It is important, therefore, to get honest references.

So, when speaking with the previous supervisor, it’s imperative to verify the reference’s title, their full name, what company they worked with the candidate, on what dates they worked for the company together, and whether they were the candidate’s direct supervisor.

Questions to Ask References for Nanny

Away from organizations and establshmets or companies, let’s talk about Families and Nannies. Remember that hiring is a selling process on both sides. The nanny candidate will be putting her best foot forward, and will almost always present only her very best side which can be impressive. As a parent, you must identify the nanny’s strengths and weaknesses before you can reasonably determine that she is the best choice for your family.

Knowing the right questions to ask references regarding a nanny is hands-down the most effective way to learn more about how this nanny thinks, acts, and performs on the job. You should always require a minimum of two childcare references or persons not related to the applicant. The intending nanny should be able to provide two or more references, so you get a well-rounded view of their skills

Tips on Questions to Ask References for Nanny.

The following tips will guide the hiring parent in asking the references the right questions

#1. Ask employment basics

Once you get a reference on the phone, there are some must-ask questions for the references regarding the incoming nanny that will help you get every bit of information you need to make the right hiring decision. First, verify that the information the Nanny gave you about their work history is accurate. Ask questions like:

  • How long did this person work for you?
  • What were their job duties and responsibilities?
  • How old was the child or children they cared for? And why did they leave?

#2. Cross-check Past Performance

Once you’ve verified their employment history, evaluate the specifics of their performance. There are three major areas you should always ask about to get a clear picture of how they behave on the job.

Questions to ask references regarding a Nanny recommends communication, reliability, and consistency. To find out how they measure up in those areas, try asking questions like:

  • Did you feel like you were always informed of what was going on while they were caring for kids?
  • Were they always reachable while they were working for you?
  • Were they punctual, and did that continue to be the case the entire time they worked for you?

#3. Introduce yourself and the purpose of the call

Questions to ask references regarding a Nanny should last more than five minutes of the reference’s time and confirm that this is a good time for them to talk. Be prepared to have to schedule a time and be patient with voice mail phone tag. Briefly describe the position you are considering the candidate for and make notes of the reference’s responses. Play up the fact that this person would have sole-charge responsibility for your children to elicit more candid responses.

#4. Ask your questions and then be silent and listen to the answers.

Don’t verbally agree (um hum) or disagree (really?) or interject any of your feelings into the conversation – this will lead the reference in the direction you are considering rather than provide you with the unvarnished truth. The reference’s responses can indicate enthusiasm, discomfort, hesitation, concern, or other key indicators.

#5. What to do if there’s a bad reference.

You may get a “bad” reference. There are references who barely remember someone—they sometimes have trouble recalling certain details or give an unexpectedly negative review of the person’s performance. If the reference barely remembers any details, it is possible the person worked for them too long ago or exaggerated their role. In these cases you’ll want to request additional references.

Questions to Ask References for Jobs

Questions to ask references concerning jobs are an integral part of a complete background screening process, such as employment history verification, education verification, criminal history, and motor vehicle reports.

Always ask questions to references regarding jobs from former managers and from colleagues at a peer level. As an employer, you’re not just looking to hire someone you’ll get along with—you want to consider group dynamics to protect your current employees when you bring in a new team member. Some tips:

  • Ask for at least two references, and three are ideal
  • Get specific — ask your applicants to provide one supervisor, one coworker/professional peer, and one personal reference

If you can’t ask these questions, it means you haven’t yet set goals. Go into every call with intention — and a clear list of items to discover:

  • What is this employee like to work with?
  • How are they to manage?
  • How would they fit in with your team?

In addition, reference calls are used to drill down into any questions or reservations you might have about the applicant.

Tips On Questions To Ask References For Jobs

#1. Reference questions to ask former bosses

  1. Tell me about this person’s ability to build relationships with peers, management, or customers.
  2. How open is this person to change and/or ambiguity? Can you tell me about a time they showed flexibility?
  3. What type of environment do you think this person will most likely thrive in?

#2. Questions to Ask Formal Coworkers Or Peers

  1. How did you work with this employee? Were you close colleagues or distant members of a big team?
  2. Could you rely on this employee to help you when you were overwhelmed?
  3. Was this employee able to ask for help or support when they needed it?

A Few Quick Tips for Checking Job References

  • Questions must be related to job performance
  • Questions should be designed to gain insight into past work history and performance.
  • Be careful about questions that might cross the line into territory protected by law. Inquiring about work absences, for example, might tread into information about absences caused by health issues, which is not legally permissible.
  • Phrase questions in a way that excludes such issues.

Questions To Ask References For Tenants

Questions to ask references regarding tenants takes more than just reading printed reports to find a good tenant. Asking questions to the references improves the odds of finding a tenant who will take care of the property and pay the rent on time. These references include their employers, previous Landlords, and personal references.

Don’t take shortcuts and be thorough in the questions you ask references regarding the tenants’ screening process. Here are some of the most important questions to ask.

To a tenant’s current or previous Landlord/s:

  • Who are/were the occupants listed on the lease?
  • How long was their tenancy?
  • Did they have pets?

Questions to ask the tenants’ employers:

  • Can you confirm this person is employed at your company?
  • What are the average hours they work?
  • What are the terms of their employment? Are they employed full-time or on a contract?

For a tenant’s personal”s references:

  • How do you know the applicant?
  • How long have you known them?
  • Have you been to their home before? How would you describe it?

Questions You Cannot Ask Reference

Some questions can seem innocuous at first, but the ramifications of asking them in a reference interview can be extreme. While it can be challenging to understand what can you not ask in a reference check, you should always avoid certain topics and questions.

Examples Of Questions You Cannot Ask Reference

  • Anything related to demographics or personal information. Don’t ask about a candidate’s sexuality, age, religion, or similar matters.
  • Anything related to personal health. Don’t ask about a candidate’s medical history or the existence of disabilities. You can ask whether the candidate is capable of performing the tasks that the job requires.
  • Anything related to credit scores. Although you can request a credit score from a job applicant, the Fair Credit Reporting Act bars you from asking for references about an applicant’s credit score.
  • Anything related to the family. Don’t ask whether a candidate has (or plans to have) children or a spouse. If you worry that a job applicant with a family might not have enough time for the job, ask for references if they think the time demands of the job will suit the candidate. 


It is careless to just up and employ anyone without conducting a proper background check on the said individual. This could negatively affect the company in question and eventually bring it to ruin. However, asking the right questions or knowing the questions not to ask prospective employees will go a long way to helping you make the right hiring decision.

I believe you have been adequately guided.

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