What Questions Should You Be Asking Job Candidate References?

A recent survey indicated that recruiters will remove one in five candidates from consideration during the reference check process. Upon interviewing over 1,000 hiring managers, they found:

  • 36 percent said they were interested in getting more insight on the applicant’s past job duties and experience
  • 31 percent used a reference check to learn about candidate’s strengths and weaknesses
  • 21 percent removed a candidate from consideration for a job after speaking to professional contacts

It’s really not surprising that hiring managers eliminate certain candidates during the candidate reference check process. Very often, candidates elaborate on their experience, inflate their own value, and even falsify information hoping no one will check. The smartest hiring managers use a consistent series of reference check questions for all candidates before offering them any employment.

Here are some questions that you can legally use when checking professional candidate references. Along with verifying their position and dates of employment, you will want to ask:

1. What is your relationship to the candidate?

If someone is a good reference for a candidate, they have had some direct supervision or observation to the candidate. Ask specifically about how they worked with this job candidate during their time with the company. Learn about the specific daily interactions, either as a co-worker or a supervisor. The office receptionist or a cousin of the candidate don’t count, sorry.

2. Would you bring them back?

This very simple question is also very important to understanding the reputation of the candidate. If the reference says Yes with no hesitation, it’s a great sign. If they hesitate or refuse to answer, this can be a red flag. Regardless of the answer, follow-up questions are important to gain more insight from the job reference.  Some companies have policies that don’t allow the company to hire a person back once they have left the organization, no matter what the circumstances were when the person left.

3. What are their strengths and weaknesses on the job?

Once you break the ice with a reference it’s perfectly legal to ask about the performance of the candidate. Ask for the candidate’s biggest strengths and weaknesses, which can then be compared to how the candidate answers later in the interview. If the reference is being hesitant to talk about anything specific (especially in the weakness area), then have a list of questions prepared to gain the information that you want. When a bland answer comes from “What are their biggest weaknesses” then ask more direct questions about attention to detail, creativity, etc.

As part of the job hiring process, job references can become an integral piece of that process. They give information that you can’t learn directly from the job candidate. A well thought-out plan of questions for the job references can lead to great information that helps you make the best decision.

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