Employer Reference Check Questions: 8 Things You Must Ask

  •  12/09/2021
  • By Andrea Collatz
  •  Employer

As an employer, checking references during the job hiring process can be a great way to get a better understanding of your candidates and make an informed hiring decision. During this step, it’s essential to as employer reference check questions, such as “How would you described the candidate’s work ethic?” and “Would you recommend this candidate for this position?” For a list of more employer reference check questions, keep reading below.

While a job applicant’s resume can be written to make them look like an all-star, it pays to check their references to make sure that your candidate wasn’t actually riding the bench.

Asking the right reference check questions can help you confirm the candidate’s experience and professionalism, but most importantly, speaking with previous employers can raise any red flags you may have missed.

Checking your applicants’ references can help protect your business from making a poor hire, and provide you with more data points to convince you that you’ve truly found an exceptional employee.

Our guide to candidate reference check questions will help you navigate this crucial aspect of the hiring process. Reference checks paired with a comprehensive online background check from a service like ShareAble® For Hires can help you make a good hiring decision and protect your small business.

As a reminder, you should always consult the laws applicable to your business and consider consulting an attorney to help you with confirming your responsibilities under applicable law – since this material is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.

Why Should Employers Ask for Employee References?

There are many benefits to checking employee references. Employers can use reference checks to better: 

  1. Confirm the candidate’s claims. Unfortunately, some job applicants can falsify information on their resumes or during interviews. 
  2. Narrow down the pool of candidates. You can determine who is going to be the best fit by getting insights from someone who is familiar with their work ethic, experience, and skills. 
  3. Protect your company. Gather information about the candidate’s behavior that could help you understand if they present more risk to you, your company, or your customers.

Employer Reference Check Questions: 8 Things You Must Ask

Checking references is one of our top tips to reduce hiring risky employees and is generally considered a crucial part of employer processes for pre-employment criminal checks. A thorough reference check process can help employers cover their bases and provide peace of mind when making a hiring decision.

How to Conduct Employee Reference Checks

There are several steps you should consider following when conducting employee reference checks (remember to first review laws applicable to you and/or consider consulting an attorney):

  1. Call the reference: Conduct reference checks by phone to allow you to ask better follow-up questions in real-time.
  2. Identify yourself: Being transparent about who you are and why you are calling will help you get through the chain of command faster. Instead of leaving a message and hoping for a timely callback, you will likely get put through to the correct party.
  3. Provide context: Brief them on the role the candidate has applied for will allow them to frame their responses and provide you with the most relevant information.
  4. Listen carefully: Listen to what the individual is saying about the employee, without interrupting, is important to get the most information from them.
  5. Ask follow-up questions: Don’t be discouraged by short or vague answers, ask follow-up questions to dig deeper for the information you need.
  6. Thank them for their time: Be sure to thank the person for taking the time to help you out, as this insight is incredibly valuable.

Best Practices When Contacting References

Conducting a reference check should be fairly simple, especially once you’ve done a few.

When completing a background check and contacting references, it’s important to follow hiring best practices. Figuring out how to do a background check can be difficult for a small business. However, following the steps below will help you smoothly navigate this part of the hiring process:

  • Prompt the candidate to include references on their application: This allows you to collect references from the start. It also gets candidates to consent to reference checks, which is important. Pro Tip: Specifically request contact information from their previous supervisor. It can help you ensure you’re getting quality references with the insights you need to make the best hiring decision.
  • Inform the candidate that you intend to check references: You generally should notify the employee that you’ll be conducting reference checks and you may need to get their consent in writing.
  • Contact the references they have provided: You might consider calling all of the references listed on your job candidate’s application. Typically, two to three references should provide you with enough information to back up what the candidate has claimed.
  • Consider “blind” reference checks: Reach out to individuals you know to be associated with your applicant by checking connections on job-related media such as LinkedIn or cold-calling their place of employment. However, remember to always conduct yourself in accordance with legal requirements.
  • Prepare your questions ahead of time: Like you, the individuals you’re calling are busy. Make your call efficient and effective by preparing your questions ahead of time.
  • Cross-check information: According to a CareerBuilder survey, 75% of HR managers surveyed have caught a lie on a resume. Be sure to confirm the information provided on their resume or details mentioned during the interview that is relevant to the job.

Why Do You Need to Cross-Check Information

  • Do not ask questions related to federally protected categories: According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you cannot ask about certain aspects of a candidate’s medical or genetic information. You must also comply with laws related to protected classes including age, religion, sex, disability, and more.
  • Ask specific questions: Vague questions will yield vague answers. Create a list of carefully curated questions that can reveal insight their skills and ability to perform the job’s duties.
  • Focus on the facts: Allowing yourself to overanalyze the tone of the response can cause you to lose sight of the facts. Base your decision on what the person said, not how they said it.
  • Take notes: It can be difficult to recall everything that has been said during a phone call. Jot down notes. You can review and compare their responses with those from other references.
  • Document your process: This will be important if any issues arise down the line. Document how you went about checking employee references as well as the date, time, and who you spoke to.
  • Treat each candidate equally: Be consistent. Approach each reference check in the same way. Maintain a fair approach by asking the same questions about each candidate.

Before you perform an employee reference check, you should check with your state laws to determine whether there are any other legal restrictions that apply. Unknowingly overstepping these boundaries could have serious consequences.

8 Questions to Ask When Checking References

Asking the right questions is the key to getting the information you actually need to better inform your hiring decision. In fact, according to a survey by Accountemps®, roughly one-third of candidates are eliminated from consideration after their reference check—making the hiring manager’s decision much easier.

Asking the Right Questions Is Important

If you’ve never performed a reference check, or want to improve your hiring process, you may wonder what are the best reference questions?  While that depends on the specific position you’re hiring for, there are general questions (as well as some follow-up questions) to help guide you. 

8 Employee Reference Questions to Ask:

  1. How do you know the candidate?
  2. Can you confirm the candidate’s employment, job title, and responsibilities?
  3. Would you describe the candidate as reliable and dependable?

    Follow up: Were there any issues that you’re aware of that negatively affected their job performance?

  4. What would you say are the candidate’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?

    Follow up: What could the candidate do to improve their strengths or buttress the weaknesses?

  5. Did the candidate conduct themselves in a professional manner?

    Follow up:  How did they get along with others in the workplace?

  6. How would you describe the candidate’s work ethic?

    Follow up: Did they consistently hit deadlines? Did they take on duties beyond the scope of the job?

  7. Would you recommend this candidate for the position?

    Follow up: Are there any skills you think they lack in order to be successful?

  8. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you think I should know about the candidate?

If you’re unsure about a question you’re considering, it may be worthwhile to review the federal and state laws pertaining to reference checks and discrimination and consult legal counsel.

For the Questions, You Can’t Ask, Run a Background Check

By following this guide, you can feel more confident about doing reference checks on your candidates.   It’s important to take the time to do the diligence.  The information that you uncover can help you become more comfortable about making a more informed hiring decision.

But remember, asking the right reference questions is just one aspect of a well-rounded hiring process.  Be sure to seriously consider doing pre-employment screening as well.  To get answers to important background information, it is imperative that you use a criminal background check service you can rely on.  ShareAble For Hires is designed for small businesses to run fast and comprehensive pre-employment screening services

With ShareAble, getting background reports is easy and fast.  Your first screening can take as little as minutes from the moment you sign up online.  As a result, your small businesses can make hiring decisions on the spot, so you can get back to work faster.

ShareAble easy steps to do employee background checks

ShareAble For Hires is unique because it:

  • Requires no onerous application process to determine eligibility
  • Grants access to screening tools for every legitimate small business
  • Makes the tool available for immediate use, 24/7
  • Has applicants enter in their information, not you
  • Is wholly self-service, no need to call to start
  • Delivers FCRA-report data from TransUnion fast

ShareAble For Hires Delivers:

  • Credit report: To understand more about your candidate’s level of financial responsibility
  • Criminal records: To uncover any relevant criminal history
  • Identity verification: To make sure your candidate is who they say they are

So skip the paperwork and credentialing. Start screening now, fast-track the process, and hire your next superstar on-the-spot. Plus it’s free to sign up to establish your account.  Pricing is straightforward—there are three convenient screening packages to choose from, and you only pay when you screen. 

When you’re building your team at work, you don’t want to hire people who can’t play well with others. Check a job applicant’s references, and then check their past with a low-cost background check with ShareAble For Hires.

Learn more about shareable Identity verification

Senior Marketing Analyst, TransUnion ShareAble

Andrea Collatz

She focuses on topics that empower small business owners through data, insights and industry best practices.

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