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Checking References

The following guide outlines the basic process for checking references. Some sample reference checking questions are also provided below.

Guide to Checking References

  • Obtain authorization from the applicant to verify information and check references.
  • Contact 2-3 references including the current supervisor.
  • Take notes.
  • Be consistent in your approach for each reference check.
  • Identify yourself, your position in your organization and explain why you are calling.
  • Assure the person that you will make every effort to keep the responses confidential.
  • Ask if s/he is free to discuss the situation. If s/he is not available at that time, schedule a time to return the call.
  • Describe the position, including the responsibilities and requirements.
  • Start with a general question such as "How would this applicant fit our vacancy?"
  • Be prepared. Develop questions to explore areas of uncertainty and to confirm positive aspects.
  • Let the person answer freely for as long as s/he wishes without interrupting.
  • Follow up and probe when you feel the contact is reluctant to discuss certain factors. Explain that you are anxious to get a good fit – for the sake of both the organization and the applicant.
  • BE ALERT FOR PAUSES AND VOICE INFLECTIONS, especially after a sudden surprise question such as "Is this one of the best employees you have ever worked with?" or "I sense that you have some reservations that you are not sharing."
  • Verify educational degrees and job-related licenses and certificates
  • Remember that the information you receive is limited by the perceptions of the person giving it. If negative information is received, weigh it with data received from other resources before using it to make a decision.
  • For some positions designated "sensitive" because of the nature of responsibilities or interactions involved, it may be necessary to perform an educational credential verification, a check on criminal convictions, or a credit inquiry. If you feel such a check is appropriate, contact the human resource representative in your organization for assistance.

Sample Reference Checking Questions

Remember, if it is unlawful to ask in the interview, it is also unlawful to ask in the reference check.

  • What was the nature of their position with your organization?
  • If an opportunity arose, would you hire this person to work with you again?
  • Since no one is perfect at everything, please describe some of their shortcomings.
  • On average, how many times a month are they absent? How many times do they come in late or leave early?
  • When given difficult and urgent assignments, were they done on time? Could you provide an example of such an assignment?
  • How do they get along with their supervisor? With other employees?
  • If you were giving special salary increases for merit to the top 10% of your employees would they be in that group?
  • How effective are they in influencing others, especially those over whom they have no control? Describe a situation where they demonstrated this skill.
  • If you were told tomorrow that you must put 20% of your employees on layoff, would you be tempted to select this person? Why or why not?