The Best Questions to Ask During a Background Reference Check

After a long and hard search, you’ve finally found someone you believe is the ideal candidate. They have all the right experience. They are articulate and personable. They are well groomed and presents a thoroughly professional appearance. What luck! You can’t wait to make the offer and get this rock star on board.

But hold on a minute, now. Don’t forget the reference check! A comprehensive reference check is crucial to your hiring process. And while some believe checking references is a complete waste of time, nothing could be further from the truth.

Considering that checking references is necessary due diligence, why do so many fail to get it right? How do the resume fakers, education embellishers, and job fabricators blaze past the gatekeepers and straight into your workforce?

Fortunately, our list of top questions to ask during the reference check ensures you won’t have to find out.

Best Reference Check Questions

“They indicated working for you from X to X and their job title was X. Can you please confirm?”

A key part of the reference check is simply verifying basic information provided to you by the candidate, such as hire and termination dates and job title. If the candidate fudged here, there’s no telling where else they misled you about.

“Were they punctual? Were there any issues with lateness or absenteeism?”

No matter how high-level the job, an essential function is showing up. A leader who’s unable to guide and mentor staff as needed is just as troublesome as an individual contributor who can’t be depended on to arrive at work regularly and on time.

“What were their job achievements?”

Again, a key point of the reference check is verifying what the candidate achieved. Their fantastic job experience is of no value to you if they were just a poor performer.

“The top competencies for this job are X, Y, and Z. How would you rate them in each of these areas?”

Along with cultural fit, assessing competency fit is very important. Your candidate could be a fabulous human being, but if they don’t possess the competencies for the job, then they’re not a good match for it.

“What are their strengths? What are their areas for development?”

Nobody is perfect, and that includes your candidate. But it’s okay. They don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be able to do the job, and you need as much information as you can get about their capabilities. This question will help you do that while also getting you started on creating a developmental plan for your new employee (should you decide to hire them, of course).

“How should I manage their to get top performance?”

The answer will give you a good idea of the managerial style your candidate responds to best and whether that style is compatible with yours.

“If I were to hire them, what advice would you give me?”

This question is wide open and the employer’s chance to say whatever he or she pleases about your candidate. The choice will give you a pretty good idea of the candidate’s standing with the employer as well as the employer’s overall opinion of them.


The reference check is a critical tool for determining candidate appropriateness, but only if you ask the right questions and take into account the answers. Also, don’t hesitate to circle back to the candidate and follow up on anything you’ve heard that requires further clarification.

Finally, while it’s common practice to conduct reference checks post-offer and as a condition of employment, we don’t recommend that practice. Instead, use a reference check service for all your top picks, and you’ll gather insights across candidates that will help you narrow down your list. With automated reference checking software, this can be done easily and in a fraction of the time it would normally take and often surprisingly will give more insights.

Harver Team

Harver Team

Posted on:
June 5, 2023

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