Reference checks are an overlooked yet effective tool for hiring top performers, usually because the hiring manager doesn’t have the time. But a quick 5 minute reference check can add really help you find the perfect new employee.

Why you should check references

Verifying past employment may help you avoid hiring an employee who had serious performance issues in their last position. When you are unable to obtain a few positive references, that’s a red flag.  

Of course, the opposite is true too. If you’re on the fence about someone, some great reference checks could prove just the extra context you need to feel confident about this person who’s joining your team.

When you should check references

For most teams, checking references is the last step in the hiring process before making an offer. While you can ask for reference contact information upfront in the job application, keep in mind that it may deter some applicants (especially those currently employed, if you ask them to include their current employer as a reference). So, at the very least, make sure to note that you won’t be contacting them until after a successful interview.

What kind of references you should request

Depending on whether or not this is an entry-level job, you may want to specify the type of references. For a student’s first job, you might request references from teachers, roommates, coaches, and the like, since they probably don’t have any professional references yet. On the other end of the spectrum, for a more senior position, you probably want to speak to professional references exclusively.

The questions you should ask during a reference check

Keeping that in mind, you can revise these questions as necessary, but here’s a quick guide that will make reference checks quick and painless — and a framework that’ll make it easier to compare candidates side-by-side.

 

  1. Where did you work with [Candidate]?
  2. What were the dates of employment for [Candidate]?
  3. What were [Candidate’s] primary responsibilities and did they perform those responsibilities skillfully?
  4. Were there any attendance issues or trouble getting to work on time?
  5. What do you consider to be [Candidate’s] strengths?
  6. What would you coach [Candidate] on if you were able to?
  7. Is there anything else you think I should know about [Candidate]?

You can also download these questions in a fillable form you can share with your team as they interview candidates at your business.