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  • Writer's pictureEmmanuel White

Hiring Tips: How to reference check

So, you have found a candidate that seems to be an excellent fit for that urgent requirement in your organisation. Before you make a job offer and finalise the hire, though, it is essential to conduct a thorough reference check. This will help verify the employment and educational history of the candidate, validate information that they have provided during the interview, gain a better insight into their strengths and development points, and learn about their work habits, work ethic, and personality. Below are some pointers to help run consistent reference checks, every time, and make the best hiring decisions.

1. Ask for work references

The candidate's previous and/or current manager are the most preferred references, as they are the most appropriate people to vouch for the candidate's work. If this is not possible, then do ask for indirect managers, team members, co-workers, volunteer coordinators (if the candidate has limited work experience) or professors (if you are hiring a student) with whom the candidate has worked. You can either check with stakeholders working in a different company of your candidate: if you are recruiting in sales, ask for a key client, if you are hiring for your procurement team, ask for a strategic supplier and so on. Ideally, go for, at least, three references from each candidate you are considering for a hire and arrange a phone meeting with each reference (timewise, at least, 15 minutes per reference).

Do NOT: Focus on obtaining personal references. Chances are they will be biased and come from people that will most likely have never worked with the candidate. Besides, personal recommendations will, in most cases, provide you with a character reference, when you need a work reference based on observation. So, make sure you ask how they know each other.

2. Ask the right questions

Think back to the job description. What core skills and competencies are required? Then, ask both the candidate and references the same questions. If for example, you asked the candidate questions about time management, decision-making, and communication, you should also address the referee the same questions. That way, you will get the candidate's actual past behaviour and experiences.

Open-ended questions are the best type to consider. Some examples:

  • How did the candidate contribute to the success of the organisation?

  • What are their strengths and areas in which they could improve?

  • Would you (the reference) re-hire this person, given the opportunity?

  • Elaborate a bit on the (i.e. product development) team with whom the candidate interacted.

  • Where there any soft or technical skills required for the position?

  • Can you please describe a challenging project the candidate had to manage? What issues did they run into? How did he or she resolve them?

Matching what the candidate said to what the reference told you will allow you to identify whether the candidate has overstated their role in the particular organisation or not. An excellent way to determine what questions need to be answered is to carefully list doubts that have arisen during the interviews.

Do NOT: Stay only on opinions. Instead, remain grounded in the facts. Ask for measurable results, such as new systems put in place, profit levels generated, and sales volume. Facts are a far better predictor of future behaviour than opinions of a former colleague or employer.

3. Be prepared for unexpected answers or obstacles

If the reference offers an unfavourable perspective or does not sound willing enough to provide feedback about the candidate, then investigate what has driven them to shape such an opinion about the candidate.

If the candidate has not offered up-to-date contact information, it might be a reflection of their lack of attention to detail.

If the company of the reference has a policy of not providing references for past hires, ask if they could provide a personal recommendation instead.

If the reference is in a different time zone or too busy and cannot talk over the phone, you can ask your candidate to email your questions to them and have the candidate email a response back.

Do NOT: Put the reference check off. First of all, you run the risk of finding out crucial information that will make the candidate a poor match for the job in question, after you have decided to hire them, which is not good news. The cost of a mis-hire, meaning an employee you must let go because they are not up to the required standard or an employee that leaves because they feel they are not cut for the job, can be as high as 9 times their monthly salary. Secondly, the chances are that if you have already hired them and then talk to a reference, you will utterly hear what confirms your decision.

Once you have evaluated your reference checks and are definite that the information provided by the references confirms your initial impression of the candidate, you can offer the job and feel confident about your decision.


Whatever your talent acquisition needs are, WeLinkTalent can help you find the right candidate and provide guidance as per what needs to be done to face challenges during the recruitment process and help you add value and maximise efficiency.

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