REFERENCE CHECK: How to Check References Properly Before Hiring

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Reference checks are standard practice in the employment sector and provide employers with useful information about potential employees. Learning how to conduct high-quality reference checks can help a hiring manager hire exceptional employees. It was previously believed that speaking with a candidate’s supervisor or coworker directly would provide some level of insight into your potential employment prospects. However, most companies conduct a reference check over the phone, through interview questions and emails. It can be annoying to play phone tag with a reference, and the information gained from such brief exchanges is usually unimpressive. So, switching to an email-based solution for reference checking can yield not only more responses but also better, more actionable insights into your future employee in a shorter amount of time. This article will guide you on how to do an employment reference check using a template.

What Is a Reference Check?

A reference check is when a hiring manager or human resources (HR) representative emails or calls a candidate’s past employers to talk about the candidate’s work history. When interviewing potential new hires, HR personnel tend to focus on the candidate’s past performance, experience, and skills because these are the most indicative of their future success in the role. This is frequently one of the last steps in the interview process before making an offer of employment.

How Does Reference Checking Work?

If a company prefers to conduct reference checks via email, the hiring manager can send detailed questions to the candidate’s previous employers to determine if they are a good fit for the position. Here are some of the most common questions covered in reference check emails:

  • Candidate experience Hiring managers may probe candidates with direct questions about their relevant work history. The answers to these questions can shed light on a candidate’s potential to succeed in the open position. 
  • Candidate performance Candidates’ previous work records are often a focal point of managers’ reference-checking emails. If a candidate performed at or above expectations in previous positions, this may indicate how they will perform in future positions.
  • The attitude of the candidate Another important quality that hiring managers may inquire about is potential candidates’ attitudes. For example, if a reference responds that the candidate was always in a good mood and a positive contributor to their teams, this can provide valuable insight into the candidate’s overall attitude.
  • Candidate skills Hiring managers may also inquire about a candidate’s specific skills. This can provide the employer with information about the candidate’s ability to perform essential job tasks.

What Do Employers Look For in a Reference Check?

Employers may ask references about your performance, punctuality, and teamwork. Salary, promotions, disciplinary actions, and why you left may also be asked.

How to Check Email References

To check references via email, follow these steps:

#1. Request Contact Information.

Request a list of references, including email, relationships, companies, and positions. Even if the reference is no longer in that position, they may still be able to provide good reference check emails. Make sure the candidate has references from more than one place of employment.

#2. Create a Rough Draft

Create a reference check email with questions about the candidate. You could create a unique email for each reference check or use a generic template. The ability to ask specific questions about the reference’s knowledge of a candidate is a benefit of writing individual emails. Using an employment template, on the other hand, may help you save time during the reference check process.

#3. Forward the Email

In order to protect the candidate’s and reference’s anonymity, you should email the recipient the results of your reference check. Allow a few business days for the reference to respond. As soon as they respond, send a message of gratitude for the response.

Does a Reference Check Mean I Got the Job?

To verify references does not guarantee a job offer. When making a recruiting choice, the panel will look at more than simply reference checks to determine who to hire.

What Should Employers Not Do During a Reference Check?

Do not ask references about any banned ground of discrimination under the applicable human rights statute. If you wouldn’t ask the question in your job application and interview, don’t ask it while checking references.

Tips for Checking References by Email

Here are some tips that can help managers do better reference checks by email:

#1. Give Information About the Candidate.

Hiring managers should provide information about the candidate they’re checking references on at the start of a reference check email. This may make it easier for the reference to identify the candidate and provide information about the candidate’s background and character. It’s also a good idea to specify how long the candidate worked for the reference and what position they held.

#2. Maintain Your Ethics

It is critical to ask ethical questions about the candidate when conducting a reference check via email. You can accomplish this by asking questions that reveal the candidate’s ability to perform essential job duties. Respectful interactions between hiring managers, candidates, and references are crucial to establishing trust and making fair hiring decisions.

#3. Make Specific Demands.

As a means of learning more about a potential candidate, you may want to ask them direct questions. In order to determine whether a candidate is likely to be an adequate employee, ask questions about their unique skill sets, experience, and performance. Furthermore, it is best to ask questions about topics that are directly related to the position for which the candidate is applying. For instance, a manager looking to fill a customer service position would do well to inquire about the applicant’s experience dealing with clients in previous roles.

#4. Take Note of the Length.

Reducing the length of the email you use to check references is also crucial. Shorter emails may allow references to quickly read and respond to the email. This can also aid in the efficiency of the hiring process.

Can You Get Rejected After Reference Check?

Rejection may follow a reference check. Some estimates place the percentage of candidates rejected after a reference check at 20%. Candidates who provide false references throughout the screening process are more likely to be disqualified.

Employment Reference Check Template

Here’s an employment reference check template for emails that hiring managers can use:

Dear [previous employer’s name],

I’m sending this email to check references for [candidate’s name], who is currently interviewing for [position name] at our company. [Candidate name] mentioned that you could provide some valuable insight into their experience working in your organization and listed you as a relevant reference.

I’d like to inquire specifically about the skills and experience that [candidate’s name] demonstrated while working for your organization. Do you believe they are capable of performing [essential job duty]? Furthermore, I would like to inquire about [candidate’s name] attitude while working for your organization, as this position requires individuals to keep a positive mindset even under duress.

Please let me know if you have any additional thoughts on whether [candidate’s name] will be a good fit for our company.

Thank you for your time and consideration in completing this reference check.


[Your name]

Questions to Ask When Conducting a Reference Check

#1. “How Long Did the Candidate Work for Your Company?”

This is a very revealing question because it verifies openness. The length of time spent working for a previous employer can help piece together a story. You may want to address the issue if the applicant has only been working there for two months and their previous employer confirms this. However, if the candidate has worked there for a long time, this may elicit additional thoughts.

#2. “Would You Hire This Person Back?”

This is a great question because it tells you everything you need to know. These simple yes/no (closed) questions can reveal just as much as more in-depth inquiries. They do, however, require clarification. So while ‘yes’ or ‘no’ starts the response, you can ask why for more insight.

“Would you classify the candidate as dependable and trustworthy?” “What Gives You That Impression?”

Displaying dependability and reliability is essential in any position. You can get a clearer picture of the candidate’s character traits by asking for specific examples of when they did and did not demonstrate them.

#4. “What Do You Consider the Individual’s Main Strengths and Weaknesses?”

This is probably something the candidate was asked directly during the interview process. The best part about this question when collecting references is comparing them to the candidate’s answers. It also gives you a better idea of the candidate and what they can offer your company from the perspective of a hiring manager.

One of the candidates’ strengths may be just what the company is looking for. However, a potentially more serious flaw is that it involves too much risk. In either case, you get the information you need to make a decision.

#5. “What Skills Does the Candidate Need to Improve in Order to Reach Their Full Potential?”

This is a great question because it reveals a lot about the respondent. First, you’re given a direct answer to their skill deficiencies. However, you can also determine whether this is a necessary skill for the role at hand. In addition, you learn about the candidate’s “fullest potential” and can imagine how they would improve your company.

#6. “What Was the Individual’s Greatest Accomplishment While Working With You?”

Obviously, this emphasizes the positive while downplaying the negative. But that’s okay. This is a great question to ask if you also ask a variety of other insightful ones. You can learn about your candidate’s greatest professional accomplishment by asking this question. For example, suppose you’ve requested two references that span a longer period of time. If there is a significant change between references in a short period of time, you will have a pretty good indication of the candidate’s professional growth.

Questions You Should Never Ask When You Want to Check Reference.

The first and most important requirement is that you stick to what’s appropriate for the position you’re applying for. Rather than directing anything personal, it should all revolve around the work persona. You’ll be fine if you follow the questions below.

#1. “Does the Applicant Have Any Children?” “Do They Intend to Have More Children?”

It is actually illegal to inquire about a candidate’s marital status before hiring them. This includes whether they are married, divorced, or single, as well as whether they have (or plan to have) children.

Furthermore, it is inappropriate to inquire about childcare needs. In this case, the best way to avoid any illegality is to avoid questions about family and personal relationships, particularly those involving children.

#2. “Does the Candidate Practice Any Religion?” “What Religion Do They Follow?”

Consider this: does the candidate’s religion affect their ability to work in the role? This is, yet again, illegal. You should not inquire about religion, religious holidays, or their church practices and leaders. However, you can inquire as to whether or not the candidate’s schedule conflicts with the advertised hours for the position.

#3. “What Is the Applicant’s Age?”

When it comes to the working world, asking a direct question about age falls under the category of “unrelated.” You don’t want to show any signs of age discrimination. But if the applicant’s age is a deal breaker because the job requires them to manage or work with alcohol, you could pose the question, “Can you provide proof of your age?”

The nature of the role in this scenario necessitates a specific age range, so it meets our ‘is it relevant?’ rule. However, you should still try to avoid asking people straightforward questions about their age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Is Reference Check the Last Step?

A reference check is frequently the last step a hiring manager or recruiter performs before making a job offer to a candidate.


Conducting a reference check over the phone has proven to be a more nerve-racking experience than emails, and the information gleaned from such brief exchanges is typically unimpressive. However, if you want more specific information about your prospective employee, switching to emails can result in not only more responses but also better, more actionable insights into your potential employees in less time. While doing so, make your questions direct and simple.

Reference Check FAQs

How is a reference check done?

A reference check is typically conducted via a lengthy phone interview or through an employment email template. During this process, recruiters or hiring managers may spend hours checking references and data.

Does reference check mean job offer?

According to Foss, a reference check generally implies that a hiring manager is about to extend an offer to a candidate and wants one final confirmation that you are the right fit for their team.

How long does a reference check take?

Each individual’s reference check takes three to ten business days on average. If you are the top candidate, you should hear from the employer within three to ten days. It will take longer to hear back from the employer if you are a second or third choice for the position.


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