Finding the right candidate isn’t always easy. After you’ve managed to get through all the applications, interviews and tests, you then have to reach out to their references to determine who is right for the job.

Don’t be tempted to skip calling references, as it’s the best way to find out if a candidate is being honest about his or her past career. To help you out a little, we lined up the top 6 questions to ask during a reference-check:

#1. Tell me about how you and the candidate worked together?

First of all, you need to understand the relationship between the reference and the candidate. Are you speaking with their former manager? With someone from the HR department? Or a direct team member? An answer to this question provides context to answers to follow regarding the experience the reference had with the candidate.

#2. What were the candidates responsibilities while working for the company?

This basic question allows you to gain objective information on the candidate’s role and responsibilities in the company they worked for. You can find out if the job involved the same tasks as the one you’re hiring for, and compare the reference’s answer to what the candidate has told you. Their feedback will also reveal if the candidate is able to fulfil the responsibilities of the role you’re hiring for.

#3. Can you name what the candidate did very well?

Now it’s time to go more in-depth. Obviously, you want to learn more about a candidate’s strengths. What did they achieve during their time at the company? How are their communication skills? Did he or she receive any promotions or praises? And does this all fit what you’re looking for? Keep in mind that it’s highly likely that most references are prepared to answer this question, especially when the candidate hasn't reached out to them before.

#4. Were there some points of improvement mentioned to the candidate, and how did he or she respond to them?

Of course, you don’t only want to know about a candidate’s strengths, but also about their weaknesses. Although it’s a bit harder to gain such information, this question will get you a long way. Let the reference share what they feel the candidate could improve. Are there any important skills or habits that need work? Did they make any mistakes? If so, don’t forget to ask how they’ve solved the issue.

#5. Can you tell me about the candidate's tenure with the company?

Being a fairly objective question, this question will provide you insights on how the candidate performed and grew within his or her previous role. For example, raises and promotions show that the candidate’s work was much appreciated, while staying in the role for a long time without an expansion in their responsibilities may be an alarming signal to you.

#6. Would you rehire the candidate? Would you like to work with the candidate again?

When you hear a “definitely” or “absolutely”, you can be sure you’re on the right track with this candidate. In most cases, the person you’re talking to will elaborate on the why the see themselves working with the candidate again, perfectly summarizing how they feel about the person. Pay attention to the subtext in this answer. Do they pause? Stumble? Or do they answer direct and without hesitation? Listen to verbal hints, as they can reveal they might not be speaking the truth. 

Taking the time to call references and ask these 6 questions will provide you with a return on your investment. For a little extra effort, you’ll more accurately determine the right candidate for the job, which will, in turn, save you (time and money) in the long run.


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