Reference Check FAQs

Why should I check candidate references?

Validating what a candidate has told you with a third-party employment reference will help you to avoid bad hires and ensure you are recruiting with confidence.

Reference questions also provide an opportunity to qualify your own perceptions of a candidate’s capabilities, and will provide added value by revealing missing skills or any areas of development so you can accurately assess any training the candidate might require.

In some industries, you may be required to show why a candidate was accepted or rejected for a role. A formal reference check document provides an audit trail you can use to demonstrate compliance with these industry regulations.

What reference check questions should I ask?

  1. Your first question should aim to define the relationship between the candidate and the reference and the details of their employment (such as job title, dates of employment, and responsibilities and remuneration).
  2. Next, ask the reference to assess the candidate’s past performance and identify their relevant core competencies.
  3. Then, enquire about any areas the reference believes require improvement, why the candidate left the business, and whether they would re-employ them.
  4. Finally, end with an open question that encourages the reference to share any additional information they feel is important.

At what stage in the hiring process should I check references?

References are typically taken after the interview stage to validate the information the candidate has provided and seek clarification on any questions or concerns you may have.

However, taking references before the interview stage can also be an excellent strategy to build a strong pre-interview shortlist and minimise time wasted interviewing unsuitable candidates.

Either way, it’s important to inform the candidate when you’ll be contacting their references to ensure they have been notified that you will be in touch for a job reference.

Who can give an employment reference?

Giving a reference is an important responsibility.. Most hiring organisations have different policies and preferences when it comes to the type of references that are accepted.

Supervisors as references: Direct managers or supervisors are typically preferred as they’ll usually be able to provide the most useful relevant performance information.

Colleagues as references: Colleagues may be able to provide an insight into how the candidate builds relationships with co-workers.

Subordinates as references: For management positions, interviewing the candidate’s subordinates can be useful for assessing their management style and whether they are a good cultural fit for your organisation.

Personal references: It’s usually best to keep personal reference check questions to a minimum, and be careful to verify that the reference is who the candidate claims they are.

How many references should I ask each candidate to provide?

While it’s standard across most industries to request at least two references per candidate, some organisations require three or more.

Many companies use the candidate’s seniority and level of experience as a guide. For example, two references may be sufficient when hiring for a junior role, while recruiting a senior executive may call for a more extensive referencing process.

Xref recommends a minimum of two reference checks per candidate.

How should I treat negative feedback during a reference check?

When giving written reference check answers, references tend to feel more accountable for the information they provide and may be more inclined to offer negative feedback or constructive criticism.

Negative feedback may not automatically disqualify a candidate, but it can be very helpful to understand how to best manage an otherwise good candidate and where they may require further development and training.

Following up a bad reference check with a phone call to the reference is a great way to further explore negative feedback. You may also want to talk through any issues with the candidate for balance. Bear in mind also that candidates are entitled to ask you to provide a copy of their reference’s feedback if they feel they have been inaccurately portrayed.

Should I tailor reference questions for each specific role?

A job reference should never be a tick-box exercise. To get the best result, you should ask employment reference check questions that are customised for each specific role.

Every role requires different core competencies, technical expertise and soft skills, and the reference check offers a vital opportunity for you to confidentially assess how the candidate measures up.

However, you might like to create an employment reference check form or template for the roles you’re commonly hiring for.

Are there any questions I shouldn’t ask a reference?

It is illegal to ask any employment reference check questions that may reveal potentially discriminatory information. This includes the candidate’s age, whether the candidate has children, the candidate’s marital status and their sexual orientation.

According to the Xref Recruitment Risk Index, up to 29 per cent of those that had acted as a reference had been asked discriminatory questions. It’s vital to know your legal responsibilities to avoid any potential discrimination claims.

How can I compare references from competing candidates?

This can be very subjective and it’s important to be aware of bias. Try to keep job reference questions as similar as possible between candidates applying for the same role so you can make like-for-like comparisons.

However, using a tech platform like Xref is the only way to really ensure consistency in candidate comparison.

Xref provides a secure, detailed analysis based on collected data for each candidate to help ensure your comparisons are fair, accurate and reliable.

How can I encourage references to be as honest as possible?

Written employment references tend to be most effective. People are usually more likely to take accountability for written references as opposed to feedback given verbally.

It’s also easier for references to deflect or give incomplete responses during a phone conversation than it is when providing written responses to set questions.

Using a tech platform like Xref demonstrates to the reference that there is an audit trail in place and that any dishonesty is likely to be uncovered.

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