Reference Checking Overview and Tips

Reference Checking Overview and Tips

In this short video I am going to give you four tips that will help you make the most of a reference checking phone call.  After you interview candidates for a job and narrow down your selection, you want to take the right steps to hiring the right employee and this includes completing background checks.  Remembering these four tips will help you confirm whether or not a particular person is a good fit for your organization.


I’m Sheryl Wolowyk, owner of myHRpro and in this human resources video I’m going to ensure you know how to check references.


Tip 1:  The first tip when doing reference checks is to ask the right questions.  There are specific questions you should ask when reference checking.  These include:

  • What type of business, organization did the candidate work for?
  • What were their responsibilities?
  • What were their reasons for leaving?
  • What were their strengths and greatest achievements?
  • What were their weaknesses?
  • Do you think the individual is a suitable candidate for the job we are hiring them for?
  • Would you rehire the individual?
  • Do you have any additional comments?


This is a basic list of topics you should cover when doing background checks.  Make sure to explore any opportunity the former employer provides to ask further detailed questions.  You don’t necessarily have to stick to only asking these questions, rather, try to take every opportunity to learn what the reference has to say about your candidate.  Be sure to pause and allow time for the reference to expand on their answers.  Don’t rush through the reference checking questions.  If you allow the reference to take their time answering you will gain more insights during the background checking process.


Tip 2:  Secondly, as you ask your reference checking questions, think about how reference describes the candidate in their previous position and compare it to how the candidate will fit into your organization.   It’s important to remember that your position may not be identical to previous position the employee filled.  Baring this in mind listen to the previous employer’s opinion remembering to note the differences between the jobs.Listen to what they are saying, evaluate their comments and make comparisons to what the employee will actually be doing in their new position..   For example, perhaps the reference said the candidate was excellent with computers but was not good at dealing with the public, and preferred to work alone rather than in a team environment.  If you are hiring the candidate for a position that requires strong computer skills and does not require them to deal with the public, use the remainder of the phone call to concentrate and explore his strengths with computers; don’t focus on his weakness with people.


Tip 3:  When doing reference checks it’s important to listen to what’s being said by the reference but equally important to listen to what they are not saying.  Often previous employers will be hesitant to share negative comments during the reference check, about a past employee. So it’s important to listen carefully to the answers they give.  If the reference answers are general and not very positive, or neutral, then this could indicate that the employee’s performance was mediocre in their previous job.  Preface, questions like “what were the individual weaknesses” with the words “everyone has weaknesses, so can you tell me some weaknesses about your previous employee”.  This helps to put the past employer at ease because they are reminded that since everyone has weaknesses it’s okay to mention a few areas that their previous employee had.


Tip 4: The fourth tip to consider when doing reference checks is to evaluate how the reference describes the tasks the candidate was responsible for and their accomplishments and weaknesses.  Then compare this to what the candidate says about themself.  This will give you an idea of your potential employee’s personality, honesty and attitude.  Going back to our example, perhaps the candidate said they are excellent at dealing with people and at using computers and one day hopes to be a manager for you.  This person may have unrealistic goals and an inflated sense of self-worth.  However, if they said they are excellent at computers and wish to find a new job where they can use and develop their strengths, well, this comment is more realistic and in-tune with the comments the reference made about their employee.   In short, the questions you ask in a reference check are important, but, equally important, are the subtle comments the former employer makes and the comparisons you draw between the two positions, organizations and employers.  Before conducting reference checks be sure to get candidates to sign a reference release form which can be downloaded from our website at   Once you have selected your ideal candidate ensure you provide them with a letter of offer and have a good orientation program in place to ensure they get up to speed quickly and have a good start in their new position.  I hope you found this video helpful and now are confident about how to check references.