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How to Conduct Effective Reference Checks?

When hiring a new employee, one of the most valuable resources available to an employer is the reference check. Conducting reference checks can provide insights into a candidate’s past performance, verify resume details, and ensure a good fit within your organisation. However, for reference checks to be effective, they must be executed with care and precision.

In this article, we’ll explore strategies for conducting reference checks that yield valuable insights about potential hires.

Understand the Objective

Before beginning the reference check process, clarify your objectives. Typically, employers aim to:
  • Confirm the accuracy of a candidate’s work history and achievements.
  • Gain insights into the candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, and work style.
  • Assess if the candidate will fit into the company culture.

Get Consent

Always obtain written permission from the candidate before checking references. This is not just a courtesy; in many places, it’s a legal requirement. The candidate’s consent will help in avoiding potential legal complications.

Choose the Right References

Candidates typically provide references they expect will speak highly of them. While these individuals can offer insights, consider seeking additional references, such as:
  • Direct supervisors from prior roles.
  • Co-workers or team members.
  • Subordinates (if the candidate was in a management position).
Remember to focus on professional references. Personal or character references rarely provide the detailed job-related information you need.

Reference checks serve as invaluable tools in the hiring toolkit, often shedding light on aspects of a candidate's professional persona that remain obscured during interviews.

Prepare Your Questions

Having a standardised list of questions can help ensure that each reference is evaluated similarly. Here are some sample questions:
  • How long and in what capacity have you known the candidate?
  • Can you confirm the candidate’s job title, responsibilities, and employment dates?
  • How would you describe the candidate’s reliability and punctuality?
  • Can you provide examples of when the candidate demonstrated initiative or leadership?
  • How does the candidate handle feedback or criticism?
  • How would you rate their skills in [specific area related to the job]?
  • Would you hire this person again?<

Conduct the Call Professionally

When you make the call:
  • Introduce yourself and your company.
  • Briefly explain the role you’re hiring for.
  • Ensure the reference understands the importance of the check and that their feedback will remain confidential.
It’s also beneficial to record the call (with permission) or take detailed notes.

Listen Actively

While asking questions is vital, listening is equally crucial. Allow the reference to speak freely and listen for nuances in their tone and any hesitations. Sometimes, what isn’t said is as telling as what is shared.

Ask for Additional References

End the call by asking if there are other people who might provide additional insights about the candidate. This can lead you to a richer understanding of your potential hire.

Look for Consistencies and Inconsistencies

After speaking to several references, compare their feedback. Consistencies can validate a candidate’s strengths, while inconsistencies might highlight areas to probe further during a follow-up interview.

Respect Confidentiality

Never share specific feedback from a reference with the candidate. Instead, use the information to inform your hiring decision or craft follow-up questions.

Make an Informed Decision

Using the insights from the reference checks, along with information from interviews and assessments, make an informed decision about the candidate’s suitability for the role.


Reference checks serve as invaluable tools in the hiring toolkit, often shedding light on aspects of a candidate’s professional persona that remain obscured during interviews. These checks dive deeper than just validating the accuracy of a resume; they offer a window into the candidate’s work ethics, interpersonal skills, and their capability to thrive in diverse work environments. While one might be tempted to rely solely on the impression from interviews or assessments, it’s crucial to recognize that testimonials from those who have worked closely with the candidate can offer nuanced insights that can’t be gleaned from interviews alone.

Incorporating these references into the hiring decision doesn’t just bolster the choice with additional validation, but it also minimise potential risks associated with hiring. A consistent pattern in feedback, whether positive or negative, can be a decisive factor in understanding if the candidate will be a right fit. On the other hand, discrepancies in references can be a signal to probe deeper or revisit certain aspects of evaluation. Ultimately, in the intricate dance of hiring, reference checks provide a rhythm that ensures every step taken is informed, balanced, and aligned with the company’s best interests.


While a strong interview is a positive indicator, the reference check offers additional insights that an interview might not reveal. It’s always recommended to conduct reference checks for a comprehensive understanding of the candidate.
Some companies have policies against providing detailed reference checks. If this happens, ask the candidate for additional references or focus on other aspects of the hiring process.
While LinkedIn recommendations can provide some insights, they often lack the depth and specificity of a direct conversation. It’s always better to speak directly with references.
If multiple references provide negative feedback, it’s essential to consider this seriously in your hiring decision. However, be sure to evaluate the feedback in the context of the entire hiring process.
While there’s no fixed number, checking at least two to three references for each candidate is advisable for a comprehensive understanding.

Remember, reference checks are just one component of the hiring process, but when done effectively, they can significantly influence the success of your hiring decisions.