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How to Conduct
Reference Checks

How to Conduct Reference Checks

An applicant’s references can provide vital information about that person’s suitability for a position, adding an important dimension to what you’ve learned from their resume or the interview. Here are some tips on conducting a thorough and informative reference check:

  • Identify yourself, your title, organization name and tell them you are calling about a  reference for a candidate you are considering.
  • Ask if now is a good time to talk or whether they would rather schedule a call at a later time
  • Make sure they understand that you have the consent from the applicant and that all responses will remain confidential.
  • It is important to give a brief description of the role you are considering the applicant for, so that they can comment in context.
  • Give them time to answer your questions. Let them respond, and do not cut them off or put words in their mouth.

While it is important to tailor reference check questions to your organization, the job and the applicant being considered, the following are some common examples of questions that can be asked:

  • In what capacity were you associated with the applicant, and since what date?
  • In what capacity was the applicant employed, and what were their job responsibilities and salary?
  • Was the applicant successful in fulfilling his or her duties?
  • What was it like to supervise the applicant?
  • Was the applicant a valuable member of the team?
  • What unique skill did the candidate bring to your organization?
  • What were their strengths?
  • What were their weaknesses or areas that needed improvement?
  • Considering the job being applied for, do you think the applicant has the skills and attributes for the job?
  • Why did they leave your employment?
  • Would you rehire the candidate; why or why not?
  • Is there anything else you would like to add?

How to Conduct Reference Checks (PDF version)

The information contained in this HR Tip Sheet is summary in nature and is intended to provide general guidance. It should not be viewed as a replacement for legal or professional advice.

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