How to answer reference check questions

How to answer reference check questions

As a manager who oversees one or more employees, you will eventually be called on to offer a reference check for someone who has worked for you in the past. However, giving an accurate and legally safe reference check is more complex than it sounds.

You need to be careful to only refer to things you know and facts that fairly represent an employee you are no longer connected to. It’s vital that you conform to any legal or policy rules on providing reference checks.

The good news is that if you follow a few basic protocols, you can provide quality reference checks every time.

Let Your Company’s Policy Be Your Guide

First and foremost, check your company’s policies on providing reference checks. These guidelines will likely include most of what you need to know about how to answer phone calls and emails regarding a previous employee.

Reference Checks in Writing

You may have the idea that reference checks are always a phone chat with former managers. In reality, it’s often more like basic paperwork. HR gets a written request (or you forward one) and then a written reference check is provided. Written references are usually in a standard format that includes basic information to confirm the facts of a person’s employment like the dates, role, wages, and supervisor.

If you have something positive or negative to add, run it by HR first before contacting the reference requester.

Never Provide Without the Subject’s Approval

The person you’re referring should always be aware and grant permission. Never take responding to a reference into your own hands without confirmation from HR. More specifically, HR must approve a signed document of permission from the person being checked up on.

Keep Your Answers Basic – Confirm the Facts

Unless cleared by HR and you have special information to impart, don’t go into detail. Confirm the dates, position, on-paper achievements, and salary (if permitted by the company) in order to provide a solid “Yes, they worked here and did their job” type of reference.

Just-the-Facts references are the safest to provide and do not put a former employee’s prospects at risk.

Provide Warm Recommendations When Possible

If you have warm and positive things to say about a former employee, clear your comments with HR speaking to the reference checker. Feel free to have a brief, positive conversation where you mention that the employee worked well with their team, contributed significantly to projects, or seemed like a bright and enthusiastic employee.

Only Speak to Your Direct Knowledge & Experience

Of course, you should only speak to things you witnessed personally or can be backed by on-paper records. Reference checkers often ask leading questions that you either should not answer or ask you to predict the future. Only speak to what you witnessed in a workplace context.

Work with HR to Provide Safe Negative References

If you need to provide a negative reference, always do so with HR’s advisement. You may need to write a carefully worded written reference instead of talking on the phone to be certain that you are conforming to all legal and safety standards.

Some negative comments may be seen as slanderous or injure the person’s ability to get new jobs if they have improved. Other times, as with threats or acts of violence, you may be obligated to tell new employers of a potentially dangerous employee.

Only provide negative references through HR and never provide a negative reference just for personality conflicts or minor performance issues.

Keep Your Conclusions Open-Ended at All Times

Employees change over time. They learn from their mistakes. They go through marriages, children, divorces, and losses outside of work. You may or may not know what personal problems an employee was going through when they worked for you, or how hard they’ve worked on themselves to improve since a bad experience. In fact, you also can’t know if a great employee has become less productive, or if they will excel in a new work environment as well as they performed under your management.

Confirm the facts. Relay their performance in the context of the role and the work you oversaw. Always keep your conclusions about a former employee open-ended. People change, and you can only speak to what you saw and what your company allows you to convey.

Atlantic Group Recruiters can offer help with all stages of the hiring process for both businesses and candidates. Contact the team at Atlantic Group for more information or to enlist our services.

What are a few typical reference check questions that job seekers should prepare to answer before they go in for an interview?

Question: On what dates did this person work for the company?
Purpose of This Question: This question is a quick check of your resume. Are you lying about working somewhere or about the duration of employment? How long were you employed by the company, and when did you leave?

Question: What duties did this person perform at the company?
Purpose of This Question: This is one of the best reference check questions to know the answer to, as it confirms the actual tasks you did at the job. If you’ve inflated your job title and responsibilities, this question will reveal the deception.
Employers may also ask if the person was qualified for the position they held or what positions the prior employer thinks the person is qualified to hold. Potential employers often ask how employers did in reference to specific job duties, such as accounts payable or UNIX administration.

Question: What was this individual’s starting salary? What was this person’s ending salary?
Purpose of This Question: Employers would like to know what you were paid to determine the salary they should offer you. Unfortunately, if you’ve been underpaid due to poor employer practices or reluctance to request a raise, you’ll have to fight harder to get a higher pay rate if your prior employer admits how little you were paid.

Question: Was this person reliable and honest? Did he or she have attendance problems?
Purpose of This Question: All employers want reliable and honest employers. Some employers refuse to answer this question due to the risk of lawsuits by those they let go. However, employers are not liable for defamation if what they say is backed up by employment records, disciplinary records and legal documentation.

How to answer reference check questions

Question: How well did this person get along with coworkers? How well did this person get along with customers?
Purpose of This Question: This question is intended to determine how well you would fit in with the organization. Regardless of your certifications and education, those with poor people skills are not a good fit with a customer service position or working with large groups.
Employers could also ask if someone is a team player or works best alone. If the job position demands an extrovert, an introvert will not meet expectations. Positions that call for long hours on site or working alone may drive extroverts to diversion and idle chatter. Employers ask these questions to determine if the candidate is a fit for the position.

Question: Can you tell me about this candidate? What are this individual’s strengths and weaknesses?
Purpose of This Question: Candidates aim to present their best side to potential employers. Asking these questions of prior employers gives the hiring manager the whole picture.

Question: How do you know this candidate?
Purpose of This Question: Employers want to vet the reference. Was this reference a supervisor of the candidate, or was the reference merely a coworker?

Question: Why did the person leave the position?
Purpose of This Question: Potential employers want to know if someone was fired due to incompetence, quit out of anger or was let go as part of a mass layoff. Potential employers want to know if candidates were terminated for behavior which they themselves would not tolerate.

Question: If you had the opportunity, would you rehire this person?
Purpose of This Question: If your prior employer would not rehire you, this gives the potential employer reason to question why they should hire you. However, there are companies that will not do more than verify dates of employment, job titles held and pay rates to avoid the liability of an angry manager defaming someone and preventing the person from getting another job after laying them off.

Word of Warning:

Answering the typical reference check questions can be a delicate matter. It is inappropriate to discuss someone’s medical history when admitting they needed to take time off due to illness. Those answering reference check questions should not discuss a former employee’s religious beliefs or political beliefs, even if those beliefs caused conflict with a former coworker or necessitated time off on holy days. To simplify the process, make sure to use a reference checking service.

How to answer reference check questions

A potential employer might ask you to fill out a reference form or answer a few questions about a job applicant who listed you as a reference. Regardless of whether you’re providing a personal or a professional reference, it’s important to answer the questions responsibly. When the hiring manager asks about areas the job candidate needs to improve, offer objective comments that focus on the applicant’s overall improvements, rather than shortcomings.

First-Hand Observations Only

Focus on examples you observed firsthand and don’t rely on comments, speculations or opinions others shared with you. This is especially important if you’re the applicant’s former supervisor and co-workers have accused the worker of negative behaviors you didn’t witness yourself. Consult the person’s official personnel record and reread previous work performance reviews you created. The goal is to focus on objective, rather than subjective, details that support your reference or recommendation. Let the potential employer know the information you provide is confidential.


In my performance review, I noted that the applicant struggled to get reports to me on time. However, I see she improved proficiency in that area during her second year of employment with us.

Shed the Best Light

State your comments in the most positive way possible. It’s not easy to talk about a job candidate’s weaknesses or shortcomings, so make sure your statements reflect the best the applicant has to offer. Stress strategies the applicant incorporated into daily work routines to correct trouble areas. You might mention his receptiveness to constructive criticism and his willingness to follow through on your improvement recommendations.


Even though the applicant had some difficulty with public speaking at first, he agreed to take a public speaking course. His ability to communicate improved dramatically.

Be Honest and Forthright

Tell the truth, even if you really like the applicant and hope she lands the new job. You don’t want to make the candidate sound like she sets the world on fire if she’s an average employee and does only what’s expected. Future employers need an honest, realistic perspective so they can determine whether the candidate is truly a good fit for the job and for their company. Plus, you don’t want your former employee to go into a new job with such high expectations that she can’t measure up to the glowing review you gave.


The applicant needs to work on her task delegation skills. She fit in well in our company culture but often assumed too much personal responsibility for group projects.

Careful Little Mouth What You Say

Safeguard yourself by watching what you say. Once again, this is especially important if you’re a former employer and don’t want to risk a lawsuit for saying something that could be interpreted as mean, slanderous or untruthful. If you feel your comments could be misused, tell the hiring manager you prefer not to say anything negative about the employee. List dates of employment, job responsibilities, job title and salary, without saying anything about the former employee’s work efforts or shortcomings.

It’s best to ask former employees to sign a release form that states you may provide references upon request and let them know what type of information you plan to share. Also, don’t include any details that might be considered discriminatory, such as race, national origin, age, disability or marital status. Always keep improvement-oriented comments brief and concise.

Related video: Top Interview Tips: Common Questions, Body Language and More
In this video, we dissect an entire job interview from start to finish. We analyze everything from common interview questions to etiquette and how to follow up.

In the interview stage of your job search, potential employers may contact your provided references. Hiring managers contact your references as part of their process to ensure you are a suitable candidate for the open role. In this article, we will discuss how you can prepare for reference checks and what you can expect during this stage.

What is a reference check?

A reference check is when potential employers contact your references to verify your employment history and skills. When you applied for the position, you may have been required to provide a resume reference list, or a document containing relevant background and contact information for your professional references. Hiring managers rely on these references to:

Validate your interview answers

Learn about your professional history

See how you work in different contexts

Human resources (HR) or hiring managers will usually contact your references by phone or email.

How to prepare for reference checks

Taking an active part in the reference check process can make it go more smoothly for both you and potential employers. Follow these steps to prepare:

Confirm your reference list.

Contact your references in advance.

Have your character reference letter ready.

1. Confirm your reference list

Contact your potential references once you begin your job search to confirm they are willing to speak with potential employers. Express your appreciation if a reference appears hesitant or refuses, and try your next option. It is best to have references that will readily provide positive feedback. If a potential reference accepts, offer your gratitude and confirm you have the correct contact information such as phone number and email address.

How to answer reference check questions

Reference List Format

Reference phone number

Reference email address

Make sure to update your references on your career progress if you haven’t talked to them recently. You can also give them a current version of your resume so they can review your professional history, skills and achievements. Try to use people you have worked with in the past five years so potential employers will get a more recent perception of your work.

2. Contact your references in advance

Human resources will typically notify you when they plan to contact your references. Let them know as soon as possible so they have time to prepare. If you are interviewing for multiple positions at the same time, provide a job description for each role so they have context for their conversations.

3. Have your character reference letter ready

Depending on the job, HR may ask for a character reference letter

. This provides potential employers insight into your positive qualities and personal attributes. You should have a general character reference letter available for the hiring manager at any time during the interview process.

When choosing someone to write this letter, consider a person who can attest to your positive traits and knows you well. Examples of people who may make a good character reference include:

A personal or professional mentor

Professor or academic advisor

Client, customer, vendor or business acquaintance

What to expect from reference checks

Hiring managers will ask a variety of questions to gather a complete understanding of your work history and how it relates to the potential role. They may inquire about:

Your interview answers and resume

Your job performance and skills

Your strengths and weaknesses

Your work style

Your interview answers and resume

One basic but critical purpose of reference checks is to confirm that your provided information is accurate.

The standard questions you should expect potential employers to ask your references include:

“Can you confirm the start and end dates of the candidate’s employment at your company?”

“What was the candidate’s job title? Can you briefly explain some of their responsibilities in the role?”

“How do you know the candidate?”

These questions establish your relationship and can set the tone for the remainder of the reference check.

Your job performance and skills

In addition to confirming details that you provided during the hiring process, reference checks also allow hiring managers to learn more about your performance at previous jobs.

They may ask questions like:

“Did the candidate have the necessary skills to be successful at their job?”

“Did the candidate show any initiative to learn more or take more responsibilities?”

“Were there any issues that may have affected their job performance?”

The answers to these questions can help hiring managers assess if they are willing to learn new skills and are interested in career growth.

Your strengths and weaknesses

Hiring managers typically ask questions like, “What are the candidate’s greatest weaknesses?” and, “In what areas might they require additional support when first starting in a new role?” Questions about your weaknesses can assist hiring managers in learning more about your problem-solving abilities and critical thinking skills. Your references can identify the challenges you experienced and how you overcame them.

Potential employers may also inquire about your greatest strengths with questions such as, “In what areas does the candidate excel?” or, “What are the candidate’s best qualities?” The answers to these questions can highlight your skills and how they could transfer to the position. If your references review the job description, they can respond with strengths that relate to the role. They can also answer with their perspective of your best assets.

Your work style

Asking questions such as, “Did the candidate work best with a team or alone?” or, “Does she prefer specific instructions for a task or to work out a solution on her own?” provide hiring managers insight into your work style. This information can streamline the onboarding process and build a better relationship between you and your future manager.

HR might also ask, “In what type of work environment is the candidate most likely to thrive?” The answer can provide information about whether you are a good fit for the company culture and pace.

Reference checks can play a vital role in the interview process. Potential employers use them not only to verify your employment history but also to gain information on how you function as a coworker and employee. Positive references can distinguish you from other candidates and make hiring managers more likely to remember you.

Are you in the middle of a job search? At some point during the hiring process, you should expect to have your references checked.

In fact, it may even be a good sign: prospective employers usually check references when you’re in serious contention for a job. That said, some employers may ask for references as early as when you submit your job application, so it pays to have yours lined up ahead of time, so that you’ll be ready when asked.

References are important. An Accountemps survey reports that about one in three candidates (34%) are removed from consideration for a position with their company after their references are checked.  

What Employers Want to Know

Reference checks help potential employers confirm that candidates have been honest in their job application and interview responses. What do they want to know?

Some of the questions asked when checking references are factual, centering around job title, salary, employment dates, etc.

Reference checks are also an opportunity for an employer to get a sense of a candidate's performance on the job and personal qualities.

If you’re nervous about what will happen during a reference check, it might help to know what to expect. For example, there are standard questions that are used to check out prospective employees.

Learning what employers are likely to ask your references during the process might help you head off potential problems.

Questions Employers Ask When Conducting a Reference Check

Prior to making a job offer, a prospective employer is likely to check references. However, many employers give out only starting and ending dates of employment. In fact, some companies may have a policy that states that managers cannot provide references. Some employers refer all requests for references to the Human Resources department, which often doesn’t have additional details accessible.

Others may be willing to go in-depth and discuss your job performance, your work ethic, your attendance at work, your attitude, and other criteria that are important to a company when considering whether to make a job offer. In addition to prior employers, the people you have provided as references may also be contacted.

Depending on your location, the employer may need your consent before they can contact your references. Some cities and states have restrictions on what information can be shared by a prior employer.

Sample Reference Check Questions

Here are some of the questions that may be asked during a reference check:

  • When did (name) work for your company? Could you confirm starting and ending employment dates? When did s/he leave the company?
  • What was her/his position? Can you describe the job responsibilities?
  • Could I briefly review (name's) resume? Do the job title and job description match the position that (name) held?
  • Why did (name) leave the company?
  • What was her/his starting and ending salary?

In some locations, employers are not allowed to ask about salary due to state and local legislation.

  • Did (name) miss a lot of work? Was s/he frequently late? Were there any issues you are aware of that impacted her/his job performance?
  • Did s/he get along well with management and co-workers?
  • Can you describe this person's experience working as a member of a team?
  • Did (name) prefer to work on a team or independently?
  • How did s/he support co-workers?
  • What were (name's) strengths and weaknesses as an employee?
  • Was (name) promoted while with your company?
  • Did (name) supervise other employees? How effectively? If I spoke to those employees, how do you think they would describe (name's) management style?
  • How did (name) handle conflict? How about pressure? Stress?
  • Did you evaluate (name's) performance? Can you speak to her/his strong and weak points? What was noted as needing improvement during this performance review?
  • What was (name's) biggest accomplishment while working for your company?
  • Would you rehire (name) if the opportunity arose?
  • If I describe the position to you, could you describe how good a fit you think (name) would be for the job?
  • Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like to share with me?

Sample Reference Check Letter

Some employers will check references in writing, so they have a record of the reference. This also provides the reference giver with authorization to release information on behalf of the applicant.

Here's an example of a reference check letter sent to a previous employer.

Sample Reference Check Letter

Keene Graphic Design
10 Valley Lane
Keene, Kentucky 40339

Mr. Tom Smith
20 Ridge Road
Wilmore, Kentucky 40390

Re: Reference for Ms. Amy Rhineheart

The applicant cited above has applied for employment with Keene Graphic Design. In her employment application, she has listed you as a reference. If you can please provide the following information: we would like to know the applicant's work history, educational history, and personal qualifications or fitness for employment.

Any information you provide will be kept strictly confidential. A release authorizing you to provide the requested information has been signed by the applicant and a copy is attached.

Please answer these questions to the best of your ability, as this information allows us to make an informed hiring decision.

How long have you known Ms. Rhineheart?

What is the nature of your relationship with the applicant?

Why do you think Ms. Rhineheart is a good candidate for this position?

Please list any specific qualifications or characteristics that you feel would make her suitable for this position, or any reasons as to why she would excel at this position.

Do you know of any reasons that may prevent Ms. Rhineheart from fulfilling her position?

Do you know of any reasons why her performance would not be satisfactory?

Information provided by:

Thank you for your cooperation in providing these answers. We appreciate your prompt response.

Jason Brown
Human Resources Manager
Keene Graphic Design

Tips for Job Applicants

You can’t control what your ex-employer will say about you, but you can prepare your personal references to ensure their answers match yours and that you are both on the same page when it comes to your work history and abilities.

Even if you’ve worked together very recently, it makes sense to have a conversation about what the new job entails and what the hiring manager wants to see in a successful candidate. That way, your reference can emphasize the skills and experience that fit the duties of the job.

You might even provide them with a copy of the job description, alongside a reminder of why you’re well-suited for the role. This will save them time, as well as ensuring that you get the best possible reference.

The Bottom Line

GET YOUR REFERENCES READY BEFORE YOU APPLY: Some employers will ask for references early in the process, so it pays to be prepared.

KNOW WHAT QUESTIONS PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYERS ARE LIKELY TO ASK: And know what your references are likely to say in response to those questions.

PREPARE YOUR PERSONAL REFERENCES TO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION: Consider providing them with a copy of the job description, so that they can emphasize the qualities that make you right for the job.

You’ve made the request for a proposal, completed a software demo and perhaps even conducted several finalist meetings. That’s great! You’re well on your way to switching benefits administration providers or choosing a ben admin partner for the first time.

Now that you’ve narrowed down your selection to the final few, conducting a reference check is the next step.

As human resources and benefits professionals, you’re no stranger to checking references — but vendor reference checks have a slightly different protocol. After all, you’re evaluating an entire system, not an individual or department. That means you’ll want to speak with clients of the benefits vendor(s) being considered.

Be prepared! The referral check is your opportunity to gain assurance that the benefits software in question can successfully perform as you need it to and, ultimately, save you time in the long run. Check out these vendor reference check questions we’ve compiled below.

Below are some important questions to ask when conducting a vendor reference check:

  1. How are you using this vendor/technology?
  2. Why did you select this provider over others?
  3. Did the vendor stay within the approved timeline/budget?
  4. What is your relationship like with the vendor? Do you consider them a partner in your success?
  5. Describe the implementation process and team.
  6. What tasks were you responsible for completing during implementation?
  7. How do they cooperate with other vendors? For example, integration partners?
  8. Do they maintain clear communications and engagement throughout project deadlines?
  9. Would you select this provider again knowing what you know today?
  10. Is there anything else you can share that may help us make a decision?

Survey several current clients (if possible) and compare answers. Not every client will have the same experience, and some may have more insightful feedback than others.

Don’t forget — this is your chance to talk with people who have similar perspectives, challenges, and goals as you — meaning their experience with this vendor and their technology is something to consider. Likewise, don’t let the vendor reference check be a deal breaker. Always discuss your concerns with the the benefit administration provider in question before making a final decision.

Closing thoughts – don’t forget the people

While technology is important when choosing a benefits administration provider, it is secondary. A reference check is also an opportunity to review the team and the people you will have supporting you from implementation to Open Enrollment.

Keep in mind that benefit admin software is only as good as the team that is accountable for the configuration, support and delivery, and should be a major consideration when making a decision. Our highly trained, low-turnover and benefit-wise staff can address the most complex benefits issues and advise on best practices, providing unique solutions to the challenges.

Have more questions on how to select a benefits administration provider or wondering how to make the switch to a new platform? Check out our e-book that details best practices and what to look for in a benefits administration partner as well as how benefitexpress makes it easy to switch providers.

How to answer reference check questions

When hiring for a sales position, the candidate’s reference check is often treated as a formality. That’s a mistake.

While it can be tough to get a professional reference to be honest about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, asking the right open-ended questions can yield valuable information to help you make the best sales hiring decision.

Start by asking applicants to provide at least two Manager references and two Peer references from a previous employer.

While checking in with each reference, open the conversation by asking them these standard questions:

  • In what capacity did you know the candidate?
  • What was the candidate hired to do?
  • How would you rate their job performance?
  • Why did they leave?

Once you have the basics covered, dig deeper with these 9 sales reference check questions.

1. How was this candidate’s relationship with peers on the team?

Most managers ask whether the candidate was a team player, and receive the standard “yes” answer, because referrals know that is expected.

Turning this into an open-ended question will reveal more information. In addition to WHAT the referral says, pay close attention to HOW they say it.

2. How was this candidate’s relationship with superiors on the team?

Like the question above, this may give you more information than you expect. Listen to both the words that are used and the unspoken clues.

Does the reference answer enthusiastically or cautiously? Is there hesitation before the response?

3. Who else on the team can I call that would say good things about this candidate?

You want a quick, enthusiastic response to this question. Anything else may indicate natural caution on the part of the reference, which could be a red flag.

If they can’t immediately think of a person who would be glad to refer your applicant, you might want to think twice about hiring them.

4. Was there anyone on the team that this candidate didn’t get along with?

This question acknowledges that everyone is more compatible with some people than others, and opens the door for the reference to discuss potential issues that might crop up on your own team.

Listen carefully to the answer and how it’s given. Does the reference have to think hard to name someone? Or is the response immediate? Does it seem there were multiple conflicts? Does she explain how the candidate handled the conflict?

How to answer reference check questions

5. In what environment would this candidate be most successful?

Ask this question before the next three. This provides the reference an opportunity to share an unguarded evaluation of what would be best for the candidate. Take careful notes and compare their description to the nature of your sales environment.

6. Why do you think this candidate will be successful in this specific role?

In order to ask this question effectively, you’ll need to have a clear vision for the role the new employee will be taking on. Describe the nature of the role in detail before asking the question.

7. How well does this candidate display these specific behaviors/characteristics?

Prior to calling referrals, take the time to identify critical success behaviors and characteristics you must see in a new hire.

Behaviors may include consistency in executing on assigned tasks, proactively performing revenue-generating activities, or responsively accepting feedback.

Characteristics may include determination, strong work ethic, ambition, drive, coachability, or anything else you identify.

Identify the top three behaviors and characteristics, and ask how well the candidate displays them.

8. Is There anything else you can tell me about this candidate?

This open-ended reference check question may yield nothing, or it may yield a trove of information. You won’t know until you ask!

If the reference seems unwilling to share more than the bare minimum, that too can tell you a lot about the candidate.

9. Would you rehire this candidate?

This final question may sound like a standard reference check question, but it’s included because it is extremely important.

Most referrals will answer this in one of two ways: An enthusiastic “yes,” or a cautious “yes.” You want to hear enthusiasm.

After the Sales Reference Check Calls

Once you’ve spoken to the applicant’s references/former employer, take the time to compare and contrast what you heard from each of them. Look for common themes and use the insight along with the other info you’ve gathered from the sales hiring process to make the best sales hiring decision.

Checking in with a sales candidate’s references is just one aspect of an effective hiring process. You’ll also need to be sure that you’re interviewing the candidate correctly, running a background check, and backing up your gut feelings with a scientifically validated assessment, such as Brooks Talent Index.

Brooks Talent Index combines three sciences into one system to reveal a candidate’s motivators, behaviors, communication style, and individual ability so you can match their true nature against the position you’re trying to fill. To learn more and receive a free assessment, click here.

A reference check occurs when a future employer contacts someone who is listed on a candidate’s list of references and is utilized as a form of due diligence to ensure a company is hiring a reputable employee. Typical references may be former employers, managers, co-workers, or some other work affiliate who can help a prospective employer determine how well a job candidate could handle the new role.

What can you say in a reference check?

If you’re on the receiving end of a reference check, be sure you only speak about the employee’s skills or abilities for which you have direct knowledge. When an employee has been fired or left your company for unfavorable reasons, it may be safest to only answer the questions allowed in an employment verification call, which are dates of employment, salary information, and whether or not the individual is available for rehire.

If the former worker had any incidences of violence, you may be liable for not revealing this information in a reference check. Please consult with an attorney prior to answering any questions about an individual with a violent history.

As a best practice, you should obtain an employee’s signature that authorizes reference checks prior to them leaving your organization. Always verify you have this on record before answering questions in a reference check.

How to answer reference check questions

Reference checks usually occur late in the interview process just before the job offer and are not the same as an employment verification, which is typically a call by creditors or government agencies to verify dates of employment, salary information, and whether or not the individual still works for your company.

What can you ask during a reference check?

If you’re the person contacting references, be sure the questions you ask will help determine if a job candidate is the right fit for the job. And, similar to conducting a job interview, it’s a best practice to have a standardized set of questions to avoid instances of discrimination, which will also help you fairly compare candidates.

Examples of acceptable behavioral-based questions include:

  • “How did this person manage a team?”
  • “What are some examples of this individual acting as a team player?”
  • “What was it like to supervise this former employee?”
  • “How effective was this person with completing the work given to them?”
  • “Why did this former employee leave your organization?”
  • “How did the individual handle the responsibilities of the job at your company?”
  • “What are this person’s best qualities?”
  • “What unique skills or attributes did this former employee bring to your team?”
  • “Why would (or wouldn’t) you rehire this person?”
  • “What do I need to be aware of to help this candidate succeed?”
What if the reference only gives you verification of employment data?

If the reference you contact doesn’t give you any helpful information about the candidate’s work ethic and capability, you can request the candidate give you other references to contact. Don’t let an ambiguous reference give you a negative impression about the candidate, as some companies have strict policies about what they can and cannot say about former employees.

Can I tell the truth about a former employee?

So, circling back to the initial question: can you tell a former employee’s prospective employer that you were happy to get rid of them? Well, first verify that you have authorization to even give a reference in the first place. If so, be sure your company doesn’t restrict you from saying anything more than basic employment verification information. When everything looks good, be sure to only answer the questions for which you have direct knowledge and experience. Allow the prospective employer to then fill in the missing pieces that you’re not comfortable answering.

A hasty hiring decision can be costly. Take the time to do your due diligence to ensure that you hire the right person for the job. Rushing to hire will only get you into trouble.

How to answer reference check questions

Besides social media checks, background checks, and the standard job interviews, you should always call a job candidate’s references. The reference check is your first and sometimes only opportunity to learn about a candidate from an outside source.

Not only do reference checks allow you to verify facts from resumes, cover letters, and interviews, but they also provide you the opportunity to learn about a job candidate through the eyes of another professional. This can be a make or break moment for the job candidate.

It’s your responsibility to ask a job candidate for a list of professional references. Remember that references listed by a job candidate are who they want you to contact, but if you know someone else to call, feel free to contact them instead. It’s usually easier to trust someone you know than to take the word of someone you’ve never met.

How to answer reference check questions

Our advice… even if you think the candidate is the perfect fit – just pick up the phone and make a call. Give the reference a bit of background about why you are calling. Tell them who you are, what company you work for, and supply any other pertinent info. Then it’s time to dive into the questions.

Feel free to ask any questions that relate to the job, but remember that any questions about protected classes (race, age, sex, etc.) that are illegal to ask in an interview are also off limits during a reference check.


  1. Can you verify the job candidate’s employment, job title, pay, and responsibilities? Why did they leave that job?
  2. How do you know the job candidate?
  3. What makes the candidate a good fit for this job?
  4. If you had the opportunity, would you re-hire this job candidate? Why?
  5. What are the candidate’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  6. Did the candidate get along with their co-workers and management?
  7. Tell me what it’s like to work with the job candidate.
  8. What advice can you give me to successfully manage the job candidate?
  9. What else do I need to know about the job candidate that I didn’t already ask?
  10. Who else should I speak to about the candidate that can provide different insight?During the phone call, listen carefully for any red flags. Take note of who you called, when you called them, and what was discussed. In the HR world, it’s always smart to document every thing.The reference check will help you to paint a complete picture of the job candidate. Use this info to hire the best candidate for the job.



Get a head start and have all paperwork completed before their first day! Here are some great resources we recommend reading:

Related Posts:

WorkBright’s digital onboarding solution removes the headache of new hire paperwork and gets employees ready to work BEFORE their first day.

How to answer reference check questions

“Leading From The Front” podcast interview with David Secunda

WorkBright CEO and Founder, David Secunda was a recent guest on the podcast “Leading From.

How to answer reference check questions

Do I Need To Track My Employees Vaccination Status?

Vaccination mandates have been a hot topic in the news lately. If you’re like most.

How to answer reference check questions

The Beginner’s Guide To Giving Great Employee Feedback

Giving employee feedback can significantly benefit both managers and their personnel. If managers are willing.

How to answer reference check questions

7 Easy Hybrid Work Tips For Human Resources Professionals

Although hybrid work was already a trend in the corporate world, the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic.

How to answer reference check questions

Expanding Your Workforce? How To Onboard A 1099 Contractor

Attracting good talent is one of the most important things you can do as an.


Virtual Onboarding



Oh no! Sorry to see you are having troubles.

WorkBright is the software that your new Company uses to allow you to complete all your new-hire paperwork.

WorkBright is not, your new employer and
for security reasons, we do not have access to your employer’s information.

You will need to contact your new company directly for assistance.

We cannot help you, please do not waste your time contact us.

If you are simply looking for the login page to fill out your paperwork, you can find that here:

For more information, see our page about signing in to your account .

References can play a big part in your decision to find the right babysitter or nanny. The typical caregiver will have two people that have already agreed to be their references throughout the hiring process. First-timers may use a parent or teacher for their child care references since they haven’t yet had a chance to establish a relationship with an employer.

Either way, the potential caregiver should provide you with both the phone number and email address of references so you can contact them easily. When searching for a babysitter or a nanny on Sittercity, log into your Premium account, go to the profile of the sitter you’re interested in, and scroll down to the References section to find that info. You might feel a little awkward calling a reference, so we’ve got some tips and a list of questions to guide you through the process.

Parenting is hard.

Don’t do it alone.

Sign up for tips and support from experts.

How Do You Call a Babysitter Reference?

The first thing you’ll want to do is introduce yourself and tell the reference why you are calling – don’t forget to say that the caregiver referred you.

“Hi, this is [Your Name]. I’m calling because [Potential Caregiver] listed you as a babysitting reference, and I was wondering if now was a good time to ask you a few questions about their personality and performance.”

In rare cases, the reference might not be comfortable speaking to you or did not agree to be a reference. Pro Tip: this is probably not a good sign. If you’d like to give the sitter the benefit of the doubt, you can contact them for another reference. Otherwise, remove them from your list of possibilities.

What Questions Do You Ask a Babysitter Reference?

If the child care reference seems happy to speak to you, here’s a list of questions that you can ask to help gauge your potential babysitter’s talents. As a courtesy, try to keep your questions brief.

The Basics

  • How well do you know [Potential Caregiver]?
  • In what capacity did they work for you?
  • How long did they work for you?

Their Personality

  • How would you describe them?
  • What are their best qualities?
  • What are their worst qualities?
  • How did your kids like them?
  • Were they always excited to see your kids?
  • (Verify anything the potential caregiver mentioned during the interview.)

Their Professionalism

  • Did they have a routine when working with your kids?
  • Are they flexible? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)
  • Are they mature? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)
  • Are they patient? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)
  • Are they timely? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)
  • Are they energetic? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)
  • Can you give me an example of quick thinking from [Potential Caregiver] in an emergency?
  • Did they drive your kids, do an overnight job for you or sit for a newborn?
  • How did they do with these tasks?
  • How much supervision did they need?
  • How well did they follow directions?
  • Were they willing to clean up after themselves on the job?
  • What areas could they improve in?

Wrapping Up

  • Would you hire them again?
  • Why did you stop working together?
  • Is there anything else you would like to add?
  • Can I contact you again if I have any more questions?

Parenting is hard.

Don’t do it alone.

Sign up for tips and support from experts.

What Do I Do After Talking to Babysitter References?

When doing a phone reference check, you don’t have a lot to go by other than the person’s voice and assurance on the phone. So ask yourself a few questions afterward:

  • Did the reference sound nervous?
  • Did they answer right away to their name?
  • Is anything not quite right?

Unfortunately, there’s the possibility that the sitter could be having a friend pose as a reference. This is not a typical occurrence but trust your gut. You can learn a lot from how a person’s voice makes you feel, which is why we recommend the phone interview over exchanging emails.

We’re doing our part to help you confidently find the child care help your family needs on Sittercity—check out our Trust & Safety Center (for both families and sitters) for more info. But you can utilize your parental instincts and take comfort knowing that the work of each reference phone call brings you one step closer to finding the help that’s right for your family.

Ready to make it official with a sitter or nanny? Check out the background checks you could run for extra peace of mind and consider writing up a child care contract. Caring for your child is an important job—make the choices that are best for your family.

How to answer reference check questions

If you’re checking references during the hiring process, employee reference check forms and templates can improve efficiency and ensure you consistently gather the same information for every candidate.

Find out how to create a reference check form you can email to references and what it should include. Our sample reference check email form template helps you get started.

If you’re doing your own background checks, employee reference check forms and templates can streamline the screening process and ensure you consistently gather the same information for every candidate. Find out how to create a reference check form you can email to references and what it should include. Our sample reference check email form template helps you get started.

Simply put, conducting a quality reference check takes a lot of time and energy. Hiring managers want to get the most information out of references to make the best hiring decisions. That usually entails asking in-depth, open-ended questions in an interview-style to make the most out of the time you have with the reference.

But not every hiring manager or employer has the time to perform these types of reference checks. That’s when they turn to a professional background screener like GoodHire to conduct reference checks for them. However, if that’s not an option, smaller companies or those with limited budgets may need to resort to other solutions to conduct reference checks.

Enter: employee reference check forms and templates. These not only help streamline the screening process; they’re also typically sent via email so the reference can complete the form on their own time.

But what goes into creating a reference check form and template for your business? GoodHire is sharing how to create one, what you should include, as well as a sample reference check email form template to get you started.

Conducting reference checks can be one of the most important steps in the selection process. Since past performance is often the best indicator of future performance, references allow you to talk to past supervisors in order to determine if the applicant being considered is suited for the role.

Reference checking allows you to ensure that you are finding the most qualified person who is also a good match for the position. By conducting reference checks, you can avoid costs associated with failed probation periods and poor performance, which can impact your guests or clients and damage your image or reputation.


These checks help you confirm information on the candidate’s application form and resumes. You will also gain greater insights into the candidate’s skills, knowledge and abilities from someone who has actually observed the candidate perform.

It is important that during the interview process, you obtain consent from the applicant to contact their references and ask employment-related questions. A common mistake managers often make is asking candidates to choose their references. Instead, you should tell the candidates that you wish to speak to the people who actually supervised them. It is good practice to speak to two or three work-related references. If the candidates’ current employers do not know they are seeking work elsewhere, then go to the previous employers.

Before making the calls, it is good practice to make a list of questions so that you are asking the same set of questions, giving you a consistent frame on which to base your decisions. All questions should be job-related and legal. You cannot ask questions during a reference check that you are prohibited from asking during an interview.


  • 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:

  1. In what capacity were you associated with the applicant, and since what date?
  2. In what capacity was the applicant employed, and what were their job responsibilities and salary?
  3. Was the applicant successful in fulfilling his or her duties?
  4. What was it like to supervise the applicant?
  5. Was the applicant a valuable member of the team?
  6. What unique skill did the candidate bring to your organization?
  7. What were their strengths?
  8. What were their weaknesses or areas that needed improvement?
  9. How would they describe this applicant’s absenteeism record in relation to other employees?
  10. Did you ever find it necessary to reprimand or discipline this person? If so, what were the circumstances?
  11. Considering the job being applied for, do you think the applicant is suitable?
  12. Why did they leave your employment?
  13. Would you rehire the candidate; why or why not?
  14. Is there anything else you would like to add?

This simple list of questions helps narrow down your list of top candidates in order to select the best person for the job, your organizations, your clients and your bottom line.

How to answer reference check questions

In most job interviews, candidates will be asked to describe their strengths and weaknesses. In preparation for an interview, candidates should consider how best to answer this question so that the information is useful to employers while not damaging your chances of being hired.

Send jobs to 100+ job boards with one submission

  • Completely free trial, no card required.
  • Reach over 250 million candidates.

What employers are looking for:

Hard skills (defined by the job description)

Soft skills (such as public speaking)

Ability to work in a team

How to Address Your Strengths & Weaknesses:

How to answer reference check questions

Read through our guide to answering “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” in a professional and impressive way.

Think carefully about what you should reveal.

Use the job description to frame your answer.

How to answer reference check questions

Your strengths and weaknesses should reflect the requirements of the role. Ensure that you highlight your skills that are listed in the job description, and explain how you will gain or improve critical skills that you lack.

In general, your strengths should be skills that can be supported through experience. For example, if you list communication as a strength, you may want to recall a situation in which you used communication to reach a goal or resolve a problem.

Your weaknesses can include a hard skill set out in the job description, provided that you emphasize your desire to acquire this skill through a course or program. Similarly, listing a soft skill you lack should be supported with a plan to learn or improve this skill.

Try not to reveal too much.

How to answer reference check questions

While it is important to be honest about your weaknesses, there are a few traits that are not appropriate or beneficial to mention in a job interview. This includes tardiness, poor attention to detail, and an inability to meet deadlines.

Example Answers:


I consider my leadership skills to be one of my greatest strengths. During my time as a department head, I successfully merged two teams and organized training programs for all team members to ensure that everyone was confident in their new role. As a result, we were able to increase sales by 5% within our first month as a new team.

Thanks to my experience as an HR representative, I have gained excellent communication skills. I was responsible for facilitating informational workshops for staff members and mediated any conflict in the workplace. I have also completed a course on effective communication from UCLA.

I have 5 years of experience as a copywriter and consider myself to have strong writing skills. I was promoted to an editorial position after five years at the company, so I have also improved my editing skills thanks to my new role.

I am very honest. When I feel that my workload is too large to accept another task, or if I don’t understand something, I always let my supervisor know.

My people skills are my greatest strength. I find it easy to connect with almost anyone, and I often know how to empathize with others in an appropriate way.

Examples of Strengths.

  • Communication skills.
  • People skills.
  • Writing skills.
  • Analytical skills.
  • Honesty.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Patience.
  • Writing skills.
  • Empathy.
  • Initiative.
  • Self-motivation.
  • Computer literacy.


I find public speaking intimidating and have often struggled with presentations. As a result, I am currently taking a public speaking course at a community college to become more confident and learn to structure a speech more effectively.

I often struggle with delegating and choose to take on a larger workload to ensure that a task is completed perfectly. This puts more pressure on myself, so I have been using software to assign tasks and track their completion. So far this has helped me to trust my co-workers and focus more on my own tasks.

Shyness is something that I struggle with in large groups. I find it intimidating to ask questions or raise points, so I have often remained quiet in the past. I have been trying to be more vocal in smaller groups to become more confident.

I mainly used Python in my last position, so I don’t have as much experience with Java. I did a course on Java for one semester at University, but I haven’t used it since then.

I struggle with negative criticism and can become obsessed with perfecting my work after receiving notes from a supervisor. While I appreciate the guidance, I think I can learn to be less harsh on myself.

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and podcaster. He is a nationally recognized .

As a Guest you have free article(s) left

Join BiggerPockets (for free!) and get access to real estate investing tips, market updates, and exclusive email content.

In this article

Asking the right reference check questions of previous landlords is perhaps the most important of all the screening steps. A lousy tenant can disguise themselves in person and over the phone, but they can’t hide from their past actions.

Contacting past landlords is an art in itself. Current landlords of bad tenants might give a glowing reference to their tenants so that the tenants can get accepted at a new place. Even past landlords may avoid saying anything negative for fear of being sued.

Generally, if you are not asking the correct questions when you check references, you will not get pertinent information. Don’t ask about rent payments and skip asking about damage. Or police calls—but not squeezing extra tenants onto the lease.

Purchasing your first rental property is just the beginning of your real estate journey, because being a good landlord is almost as important as making good deals. BiggerPockets’ free guide How to Become a Landlord: Managing Rental Properties for Real Estate Investors will teach you everything—from setting rent to handling evictions.

Beware of Fake Landlords

Here’s a huge red flag: Some sneaky tenants will ask a friend to pose as their previous landlord. One way to find out if the person you are speaking with is really a landlord is by first calling and asking, “Do you have any vacancies?” before any reference questions. If it’s a friend, they will quickly be thrown off, whereas a landlord will simply answer your question.

Ask for verification of the tenant’s rental specifics, such as the address, lease term, and rental amount. A friend posing as the tenant’s landlord most likely won’t have this information.

LISTEN: Real Estate Rookie Podcast—The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Tenant Screening with Lucas Hall

How to answer reference check questions

Sample Reference Check Questions for Landlords

When calling the rental candidate’s references, be courteous and respectful of the previous landlord’s time. First, explain who you are and that you are calling with reference check questions. Then ask if they have a moment to talk.

Make sure to ask a consistent set of questions during every reference call. Standard questions keep you on the right side of fair housing laws—discriminatory questions may come back to bite you.

Here are the best questions to ask.

  1. Did tenant stay for stated period?
  2. What was the monthly rent?
  3. How much of the rent did the tenant normally pay?
  4. Did the tenant always pay rent on time?
  5. Were utilities on and paid in full at all times?
  6. Did anyone else live with the tenant(s)?
  7. Did the tenant(s) ever receive any legal notices (late rent, noise, unauthorized occupants, notice to vacate, etc.)?
  8. Were there any pets?
  9. Was the home maintained in good condition (housekeeping, lawn, etc.)?
  10. Did the tenant give proper notice before vacating?
  11. Did the tenant receive their entire deposit back after vacating?
  12. Would you rent to the tenant again?

The answers to these reference check questions will tell you a lot about your applicant. And if you hear anything strange, make sure to ask follow-up questions.

Before ending the conversation, always give the previous landlord the invitation to offer any additional thoughts or comments about their experience with the tenant. When getting references from the applicant’s previous landlords, always get a minimum of two so you can compare and check for consistency.

Current Landlords vs. Previous Landlords

Do not rely solely on asking reference check questions of a current landlord. You don’t know their motivation for giving a good or bad reference. A past landlord has nothing to gain or lose by being honest, whereas a current landlord may not want to lose a good tenant or may be overly excited to get rid of a bad one. Both situations may affect the legitimacy and integrity of their reference.

Some landlords or property management companies will require the tenant’s release of information signature before they will give out any information about that tenant.

Related: What Does a Property Manager Do? Here’s the Job Description

What to Do if Applicants Don’t Have References

Some applicants won’t have any—or limited—rental references, usually due to their age or being prior homeowners. Technically, this may not meet your qualification standards, because you can’t ask your standard reference check questions. Your options in this case are to:

  1. Decline their application
  2. Accept them without references and take the risk, assuming everything else about them is stellar
  3. Require a cosigner
  4. Require an additional security deposit if that is allowed in your specific state.

The option many landlords choose is #2—accept them without references, asking for an additional security deposit f everything else about them indicated they would be a good tenant, we would simply require additional securities like those we just covered.

How to answer reference check questionsWhat are typical reference check questions?

One of the bloggers I read on a regular basis, Donna Svei from the Avid Careerist, posted a great article on how to prep your referees.

Donna refers to a study of 500 HR professionals that found that 90% ask reference check questions about the same seven topics.

Typical reference check questions interviewers will ask will vary around the following themes:

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

Would you re-hire this person?

What was your personality or character like in the workplace?

How did you get along with other people?

Were there any discipline problems with you?

What was your work performance like?

What kind of work ethic did you have?

Punctuality and attendance?

These are all good reference check questions.

Many people checking your references will also ask specific questions that relate to your work performance. So things that you are asked in the interview could be a strong clue as to the line of questions your recruiter will ask.

Will recruiters always conduct reference checks?

Many people get hung up on reference checks, but actually there are many circumstances I can quote where recruiters have not done checks, or have accepted the strange sounding person the candidate has supplied.

What are recruiters really looking for when they check your references?

I used to find reference checking to be a bit of an art, especially when I have suspected some issues with the performance of the person I have been referencing.

Referees can reluctant to say anything too detrimental for fear of being sued, or they are simply nice people, and do not want to get in the way of someone getting a new job.

One of the biggest and most telling questions I used to ask as a recruiter was would you re-hire this person? – as often this is what it all came down to. Quite often referees can give reasonable sounding answers to all of the other questions I would ask, and I would listen thinking “it’s not exactly a glowing reference – yet I can’t pin the referee down on what the main issue is with this person.”

If there was any hesitation in the referee’s voice or if the referee said something like: “I personally would.” I would start to dig into why.

I’d comment on the referee’s tone and say they didn’t sound certain. I’d ask some pointed questions and I’d speak to all of the referees the candidate supplied.

*Tip* Let your referees know when they will get a call about a reference check

Donna suggests to prime your referees to let them know that they will receive a call, the questions that are likely to come up and why you think you are a good fit for the new job.

This, she says, can counter any negativity about your suitability for a new job.

This means if your referee says they wouldn’t re-hire you, directly or otherwise, they can still talk more confidently about whether you are a good fit for the new role.

It’s also a good idea to send them the latest copy of your resume.

That way they can know what you’ve been up to since the time they knew you.

Karalyn is the Founder of InterviewIQ and chief champion for all her clients. Get personal coaching to make 2022 your most successful year yet. Check out our job search booster services here>>Give me smarter ways to find a job .

How to answer reference check questions

It’s not every day that you’re asked to give a good reference for a friend. More than merely supplying confirmation of a job title and duties, a friend can often provide insight into something a previous employer may not: a person’s true character, which is why these references are often called “character references.” As always, follow a questioner’s lead and answer those questions put to you. But if you’re asked an open-ended question, such as “Please tell me about So-and-So…” make sure you’re ready to rise to the challenge by invoking the six pillars of character: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness.

What to Say

In most cases, your friend will let you know in advance that she has listed you as a character reference for a job. To ensure you’re ready when an employer calls, prepare a short anecdote about your friend to address each pillar. You may not need to use them all, but having several examples ready will help you answer any questions. Be sure to keep your examples succinct and focused on your friend’s character, without getting too personal.

Also, keep in mind that a glowing character reference can sometimes inspire a devil’s advocate question, such as, “So what’s the worst thing you can tell me about So-and-So?” If this happens, defuse a potentially dangerous line of questioning by saying something upbeat, such as, “Well, when she loves a job, her friends just can’t seem to get her to stop talking about it.”

Addressing the Pillars

Incorporating the pillars into a character reference doesn’t have to formal. Simply using certain words can tell an employer what he needs to know about your friend. Consider using the following words to describe your friend for each pillar:

Caring. Paint a picture of your friend as a caring person by providing examples of how she helps her co-workers and doesn’t have to wait to be asked to pitch in. Round out the picture by using such words as “kind,” “compassionate” and “appreciative.”

Citizenship. Show that your friend displays good citizenship by obeying procedures and rules as well as authority figures. Invoke words such as “cooperative,” “involved” and “neighborly.”

Fairness. Underscore your friend’s sense of fairness by explaining how she remains open to alternative ideas and treats people equally, regardless of their status. Use words such as “diplomatic,” “equitable” and “even-handed.”

Respect. Highlight your friend’s respectful manner and her deference to the Golden Rule. Color your examples with terms such as “considerate,” “polite” and “tolerant.”

Responsibility. Score a home run for your friend by talking about her sense of responsibility and how she perseveres. Rely on words such as “self-disciplined,” “goal-oriented” and “accountable.”

Trustworthiness. Speak to your friend’s level of trustworthiness and honesty. Flavor your reference with powerhouse words such as “integrity,” “reliability” and “courageous.”


Before you provide a character reference for your friend, talk with her about the job and what she wants to highlight with the employer. Check to make sure that none of the anecdotes you are thinking about sharing will contradict anything she has said in the interview or are too personal. Above all, remain professional and honest when talking about your friend.

How to answer reference check questions

You’re hiring and have identified your top candidate for the role based on resumes and multiple rounds of interviews. So you’re set to make a job offer, right?

Not quite yet — now it’s time to check references. Sure, you could take everything the candidate has said at face value, but due diligence demands that you get input from managers they’ve worked under at previous companies.

Pros and cons of reference checks

Getting references from your top job candidates’ former employers isn’t as simple as it used to be. Because managers know that revealing too much or too little can have legal consequences, they are increasingly wary of what and how much they say about past employees and their work histories.

Some companies have been sued for not disclosing enough information about former workers, while others have paid enormous settlements because they provided a negative job reference — whether true or false.

Because of these potential complications when you check references, rushing through the process — or bypassing it altogether — in order to quickly staff a position may be tempting to hiring managers, especially those in danger of losing top candidates to competing firms. But even in a competitive candidate market, getting reliable information from a job seeker’s former supervisor is an important step to take before bringing someone on board.

According to a Robert Half survey of 2,800 senior managers in the U.S., respondents reported removing 34 percent of job candidates from consideration for a position after a reference check.

Make the process easier on yourself by reviewing the following reference check tips, sample questions and potential red flags.

Need help putting together a job offer for your top candidate? The Robert Half Salary Guide can help!

Best practices when you check references

Here are three pieces of advice on handling the frequently difficult process of checking references for job candidates you’re considering hiring:

  1. Let the candidate know you check references. Be clear with candidates at the outset of the job interview process that your company will be checking their references. Checking references is perfectly legal as long as the information being verified is job-related and does not violate discrimination laws. Informing applicants that you’re going to check references can help ensure that the answers they give you during the interview are truthful.
  2. Don’t delegate it. If the prospective employee will report directly to you, you should perform the job reference check yourself. You know the position best, and you will likely have corollary questions that may not occur to others. In addition, calling someone at your same level may establish greater camaraderie that will prompt more honest and detailed answers. Checking references is also a great way to gain insight from a former supervisor on how to best manage the individual.
  3. Start with the candidate’s responses. Asking candidates in the job interview what their former employers are likely to say about them can provide you with a good starting point for your reference checks. You can begin by saying something such as, “Joe tells me that you think he was a top performer known for being a consummate team player,” and have the employer take it from there.

Reference check questions to ask

Your questions will vary depending on the requirements of the open position and what you discussed in the interview, but here are a few general reference check questions to consider:

  • What were the candidate’s primary responsibilities?
  • What are their most impressive skills or qualities?
  • What was their most significant accomplishment?
  • What additional training could they benefit from?
  • How did they respond to constructive criticism?
  • Would you rehire then? Why or why not?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • Is there anyone else you’d suggest I speak with?

Reference check red flags

Additionally, when seeking feedback from your top candidates’ former employers, be on alert for the following five warning signs:

  1. Negative feedback. It should go without saying that if a reference doesn’t provide a strong assessment of a candidate, you should consider that a red flag. But don’t stop there. Ask probing questions to discover why. You may come to suspect, for example, that a former colleague or boss is giving a bad reference that isn’t really deserved, perhaps due to past personal conflicts. In that type of situation, conduct several more reference checks with different contacts to confirm or refute the feedback.
  2. ‘Don’t call this one.’ If a candidate submits references and then hints that you should not get in touch with certain people on the list, that’s a bad sign. Likewise, if you try to check references only to discover you’ve been given a wrong phone number, the writing may be on the wall that something is amiss. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions, though. Give the candidate a chance to supply new, correct contact information.
  3. Just-the-facts references. Some employers may supply factual references only — that is, just confirming the name, job title and dates of employment. This could indicate a less-than-satisfactory work history, or you may simply be dealing with an employer whose policies don’t allow further elaboration. In these cases, replace open-ended queries (“In which areas did they excel on the job?”) with more straightforward reference check questions (“Would you rehire them if you had the chance?”). Sometimes a more direct question can get hesitant references to open up.
  4. Inconsistencies. If at any point during the reference check a former employer tells you something that doesn’t align with what the candidate indicated in their resume or during the interview, that should set off warning bells. Ask the reference a few more direct questions to make sure you aren’t misinterpreting the response. Depending on the extent of the discrepancies, you may want to give the candidate an opportunity to explain.
  5. Excessively glowing references. If the feedback you receive sounds a little too good to be true, it might be. Honest references candidly share the strengths and weaknesses of their former employee or colleague, especially if you ask the right questions. If the reference can’t identify a single thing the candidate can do better, they may not be giving you a complete picture.

Despite the work involved, you shouldn’t shy away from conducting reference checks. The more time and attention you put into vetting a candidate up front, the better your chances of making a great hire — or avoiding a bad one.

How to answer reference check questions

When a potential employer decides to check the references of a job candidate, this is a strong signal that the prospective employer has every intention of making a job offer to the candidate. When the prospective employer decides to undergo this process, they inform the candidate that they’d like to perform a “reference check.” It’s polite and proper business etiquette to ask the candidate in advance of calling or emailing a reference.

When checking references, a prospective employer may perform two actions. The first is to contact the reference and ask for employment verification (unless an employment verification letter was included in the job application; which isn’t common) and ask about the candidate.

The act of performing a reference check or “checking references” happens after an on-site interview is completed (the second interview). And when the prospective employer has made a temporary hiring decision about the candidate and decides to check references before making a job offer for employment.

As a job candidate, it’s imperative to list only a previous employer or manager as a job reference. And only list a personal reference as part of the reference list if it’s necessary. A personal reference would be a close family friend who holds a significant job title. While a professional reference would be a previous manager who can vouch for core competencies in the workplace.

In addition to a reference check, a prospective employer or hiring manager may perform a background check. A background check will validate all educational qualifications listed in the resume and ensure there are no outstanding warrants or a history of criminal activity.

How Do Employers Check References

When employers check references, the first thing they will do is to ask the job applicant if the reference list or reference sheet is up to date. This allows the job applicant to make any last-minute corrections to their list of references. The reference check will be performed by either a human resources team member, recruiter, or the hiring manager.

The hiring manager will reach out to each reference listed on the reference list provided by the prospective employee. From there, they will ask questions regarding work performance and work history. Questions might include, “What was it like to work with [X]?” or “What was [X]’s experience working with this particular type of job?” This helps to understand the candidate’s motivations better. The hiring manager normally determines reference check questions.

In the job application, the job applicant should include the name, job title, email address, and phone number of the employment reference. Be sure to list the most recent employment history at the top of the page to direct the hiring manager. This will help the hiring manager understand the chances of the reference responding. For example, older employment history references are less likely to respond to a prospective employer than a more recent one.

If an email address is included in the reference list, the hiring manager will contact them by email and attempt to schedule a phone call. If a letter of recommendation or reference letter was provided (a written reference), then the hiring manager may refer to that instead of contacting the reference.

Never include a reference on a reference list that might be considered a “bad reference” or list fake references. A bad reference is a previous employer who wasn’t informed that they are being included as a reference. Or had a bad working experience with the job applicant.

When Do Employers Check References

It’s customary to check references after the interviews have been conducted. At this point in the interview process, the prospective employer validates the information provided by the applicant. The reference should vouch for all information contained within the resume and cover letter.

When a prospective employer checks references, it does not indicate that the applicant will receive a job offer. Even if the employee references say positive things about the applicant, the employer may decide to go to another potential employee route. Don’t presume that a reference check means a job offer will be secured as a candidate or job applicant.

In short, the reference check happens after the interviews have been conducted before a job offer has been made.

Common Questions from Job Seekers

Below are common questions from job seekers regarding references.

Do employers check references if they aren’t going to hire you?

An employer may not know whether they are or will not hire the job applicant at this stage of the interview process. Checking references happens after the interviews have been conducted and before a job offer has been made. A good reference can help evaluate a prospective employee. And may lead to the employer deciding to make a job offer.

Do employers check references for multiple candidates?

Yes. Employers check references for multiple candidates that have moved into the final stages of the hiring process. It is customary for the hiring manager to ask for assistance from other HR professionals to validate previous employment and perform a reference check.

Do employers actually call your references?

Yes. While most reference checks start by email, where the prospective employer makes the first contact with the reference, it will certainly happen if the reference is available for a phone call.

Do employers check references?

Yes. Background checks and reference checking is a common practice amongst employers and human resource groups.

Can a previous employer disclose why the employee resigned?

Yes. A previous employer can disclose this information. This is why it’s very important to resign from a previous job with valid reasons for resigning.

Will my future employer check with my current employer?

If the employer is listed as a current employer on a resume, it is not customary for the prospective employer to reach out to a current employer for a reference check. Be sure that the current employer is excluded from the reference list included in the job application. The prospective employer will only contact those references listed on the reference sheet.

Favorite Resources

Our favorite resources are included below.

Job interview resources

Resume and cover letter resources

Job search resources

How to answer reference check questions

Interview Question and Answer Guide (PDF)

Download our full interview preparation guide. Complete with common interview questions and example answers. Free download. No email required.

Punctuality, reliability and dependability are factors employers look for in potential new hires. Demonstrating these factors in an interview can be difficult, with no concrete way to show your commitment to punctuality. Letters of reference listing punctuality as a strength can help, but prepare answers to interview questions on punctuality and attendance.

Arrive at least five minutes early for the interview. You cannot expect your answers to punctuality related questions to be taken seriously if you fail to show up on time for the interview.

Give examples of your punctuality. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so inform the interviewer of your punctuality using real-life instances. Don’t limit your examples to arriving on time; give details about how you complete projects on target and prioritize your tasks to meet deadlines.

Talk about the fact that failure to be punctual can affect the morale and dynamics of the workplace. Recognize the impact of being on time. Convince the interviewers that you recognize the importance of punctuality and timeliness to the performance of the team as a whole.

Be honest. If you have had a problem with punctuality in a previous position, interviewers will discover this when they conduct reference checks. Be upfront, explain the situation and how you learned from the mistake. Let the interviewers know the issue won’t be repeated.


Send your thank you letter in a timely fashion, within 24- to 48 hours of the interview. A letter that arrives more than a week after the interview will destroy your credibility regarding punctuality.

Determining the honesty and integrity of a candidate is very tough. Especially if done over the phone. Below are some ideas and questions you can ask that will help you to determine a candidates honesty and integrity

  • Describe a time when you spoke up even though it was unpopular.
  • Describe a time when you admitted a mistake to a co-worker.
  • How do you earn the trust of others?
  • Would those you’ve worked with describe you as a person of integrity? Why did they reach that conclusion?
  • Can you describe a time at work when you brought bad news to your manager?
  • Discuss a time when your integrity was challenged. How did you handle it?
  • Have you ever experienced a loss for doing what was right?
  • What is the worst professional obstacle you’ve ever had to face and how has it helped you to grow?
  • What three skills will you need to continue to develop to be “the best you can be?”

Each of these questions is designed to determine the honesty, integrity and ability of a candidate to take a stand.

Assessments can be very helpful to all recruiters, regardless of how advanced their listenology skills are. My brother-in-law uses them for every position he hires for (he is the CEO of a company). They actually saved him from making a hire he and everyone else was ready to move forward with. They liked the guy, felt he’d fit in well, had industry experience, etc. Then, they gave him the test and the results came back ‘do not hire’. He pushed back because they all really liked the guy, and the person who did the assessment explained that while they all liked him, and he’d definitely fit in, he was just bringing ‘more of the same’. They were looking to hire a salesperson who would be a hunter, go out and open new accounts. The test showed that this individual was much more of a farmer, one who liked servicing existing accounts and growing them. When they thought back to their conversation they realized that was the case and they just hadn’t picked up on it because they found the guy so personable.

It’s very interesting and my brother-in-law has found it extremely helpful for all recruiting as he has also put together profiles for positions he hires regularly such as customer service and warehouse help and when those openings come up, he can search his database for people who applied and tested and did well in either area, and he’ll call those people in for an interview.

So, agree you don’t want to use assessments on their own, but they can be very useful as an added resource. regardless of your recruiting skills. 🙂

The success of your business demands that you hire the best employees. But the selection process is fraught with so many difficulties that finding the right person may seem like an impossible task. Thankfully, there’s a simple four-step solution for every problem the employee search throws at you:

  1. Write the best job description possible.
  2. Ask the right questions during the interview.
  3. Verify the prospective employee’s abilities by using a thorough reference check template.
  4. Incorporate onboarding best practices to make the new employee feel welcome.

This article deals with the third of those four steps—checking references—so you don’t have to leave this crucial process up to chance. To help you in this endeavor, the experts at Sling have created a sample reference check template and a step-by-step guide to show you how to use it.

Using a Reference Check Template

1) Collect Reference Details During The Interview

During the interview, ask the interviewee for their references. Ideally, the candidate will provide written details, but in some cases, you will need to collect the information yourself. Regardless of how it’s presented, the reference material should include:

  • Business name.
  • Reference’s name.
  • Reference’s position or title.
  • Reference’s contact information.
  • Relationship to the candidate (e.g., supervisor, manager, owner).
  • Date range of employment.
  • Candidate’s position or title.
  • Job responsibilities.
  • Reason(s) for leaving (e.g., fired, looking for something different, no opportunity for advancement).

After you’ve gathered all the pertinent information, be sure to get the candidate’s permission to contact the reference. If the interviewee is still working at their current job, they may not want their employer to know they are applying for another job. In this case, they should provide (or you should ask for) another reference who can testify to their skills and abilities.

2) Compose A List Of Job-Specific Questions

After the interview but before you contact the reference, review your notes, the application (if one was filled out), and the candidate’s résumé. Ask yourself:

  • Is there information on the application or the résumé that you need verified?
  • Do you have any questions or concerns about the applicant’s suitability for the new job that the reference may able to answer or clarify?
  • What else would you like to know about the applicant that didn’t come out on the paperwork or in the interview?

Based on your answers, compose a list of job-specific questions that you would like to ask the reference during your call. We’ve included a section in the reference check template at the end of the next section where you can record these questions and answers.

3) Contact The References

How to answer reference check questions

This is often the most difficult step in the process because managers and supervisors are extremely busy. Before you call or email, think about the best time to contact the reference. If they work in retail, try calling first thing in the morning or mid-afternoon to catch them when they’re not involved in something else. If they work in food service, try calling right after the lunch rush.

For some references, your first call may be just to schedule an appointment to talk later. That’s okay. Setting aside a specific time to talk is better than trying to squeeze a 10-minute conversation into five minutes. When the reference is rushed for time, she won’t give her answers the thought they deserve, and you won’t have the best information possible on which to base your hiring decision.

It’s also important to remember that some references may prefer that you send them a form via letter or email. Don’t be alarmed. Many businesses require that reference information provided to new employers be kept on file to protect against future legal action. With a paper or digital copy of their own, the reference can fill in the information requested, send the form back to you, and keep a copy for themselves.

So what does a reference check form look like? We’ve included a sample template below.

How to answer reference check questions

How to answer reference check questions

How to answer reference check questions

You’re finally ready to hire your new team member! Before you make any decisions, walk away from the hiring process for a while. Turn your attention to another matter for an hour or two, and then come back to hiring with a fresh perspective.

How to answer reference check questions

After the break, review the application, the résumé, and your interview and reference notes one more time. Based on that information, choose the best candidate for the job.

5) Incorporate Your New Employee Into The Work Schedule

Now that you’ve hired a new team member, it’s time to incorporate her into the work schedule. But scheduling multiple employees through a variety of different shifts is another one of those tasks that busy managers often dread.

Even though you can’t get away from the need to schedule your employees and keep them on-task, you can simplify and streamline the process with a cloud-based app like Sling.

How to answer reference check questions

Sling is a suite of tools that are specifically designed with busy managers in mind. Sling combines the simplicity of a calendar view and the easy access of cloud-based technology with other advanced features like:

  • An integrated time clock that allows employees to clock in and out right from their phone or mobile device.
  • A messaging app that makes it easy to share photos, videos, and links; send messages; and chat with employees either in groups or in private conversations.
  • A newsfeed that acts as a digital hub for all your team member.
  • A task list that helps you assign specific jobs to groups or individuals.

Within each of those five main components, Sling is packed with intuitive tools like employee and task color coding, recurring shifts, and time-off notices. Sling even makes notifying employees about no-shows and available shifts easy with advanced communication features and push notifications sent directly to their phones.

How to answer reference check questions

On top of all the features mentioned above, Sling also acts as your own scheduling personal assistant. Sling keeps an eye on your work and notifies you when you’ve overlapped shifts, double-booked an employee, or neglected to honor a time-off request. This cuts down on all the changes you have to make after you create the schedule.

These features and many more make Sling the best organization tool for busy managers. It frees you up to focus on more important tasks like building company culture, keeping your employees engaged, and building the best business possible.

A job interview can be nerve-wracking. Sometimes an interviewer will even intentionally try to trip you up verbally so that he or she can see how you respond under pressure. However, most of the questions are simply meant to help assess your professionalism, work ethic, and likelihood to fit in with the team of people at the company.

Almost every job interview will have the question “What is your greatest weakness?” Sometimes this is followed or replaced by “how can you improve your work performance?’ Here are some tips on how to answer question how to improve your work performance.

Three Tips to Answering Questions on How to Improve Your Work Performance

Tip #1: Never bring up a serious character or personality flaw. If you bring up something that will greatly affect your ability to perform the job, there is no way they will hire you. A better idea is to admit to a smaller weakness, then state a method you have developed to work on improving this problem.

A sample of how to answer questions on how to improve your work performance might be: I believe that like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so a person is only as strong as his (or her) weakness. I try to search for those weaknesses and find ways to improve.

For instance, I have a tendency to be single-minded when starting a new task that I am excited about. To combat this, I break down every project into goals and deadlines, putting reminders in the calendar on my phone. This keeps all my responsibilities being completed on time and with quality.

Sample Question and Answer on Improving Your Work Performance

Tip #2: Use this opportunity to tell about goals for furthering your education within the field. Employers are usually looking for ambitious and self-motivated employees. Think of the goals you have and the ways for continuing education (that you can do while in the position) to improve your performance.

A sample of how to answer question how to improve your work performance in this case is: I see so much opportunity in this field. I am planning to learn and grow as a (insert vocation) by taking courses online and reading through the industry literature. Right now, I am reading (insert title).

How to answer reference check questions

Note: make sure you really are reading that book or article because the interviewer might also have read it and engage you in conversation about it.

Tip #3: Bring your answer back to basic work skills and your specific approaches to doing those well.

An idea of how to answer question how to improve your work performance this way is: High levels of work performance are based on the ability to organize, manage time, and work well with others. I use a color-coded filing system to help increase accuracy and speed when working on projects.

I also use a computer calendar with reminder notifications that alert me of approaching deadlines to improve my time management skills. I also recently read an article communicating effectively with colleagues and clients using email and other technology and am implementing the suggestions in my communications.

Note: Always consider your own experiences when figuring out how to answer question how to improve your work performance.

As Independent Meeting Planners, we’ve all had to hire vendors. But how do we know they’re any good? Just taking their word for it may get us more than we bargained for, so we ask for references. Whether they are a caterer, an on-site staffing agency, an audio/visual company, party rental company, or a band, wouldn’t it be great if we could look into our crystal ball and know that they will live up to our expectations? References help us to get that insight. But we have to ask the right questions of the references… and listen very carefully between the lines. Presumably, most people will provide references they feel will give a good reference, so here are some tips to uncover their real feelings.

1) Call the references at a time when you think they won’t answer the phone, either at lunchtime or before or after work hours. Then leave a message identifying yourself and the purpose of your call and ask that the person call you back if they feel the vendor was exceptional. Note the time you called and how long it takes the person to call you back (or if they call back). That, in and of itself, is a clear indicator.

2) Ask the reference to describe their relationship with the vendor. You’d be surprised how many will identify a personal relationship. “Oh, Mary! She’s my best friend!” On the other hand, they may strictly have a professional relationship, which might allow you to get a non-biased reference with solid information.

3) Ask the reference to give you a general idea of the services the vendor performed for them. Understand the scope of services you wish to hire the vendor for and match it up with the services provided to the reference. Make sure there is common ground.

4) Do a little soul searching to bring to light any pet peeves you may have and address them with the reference. Make note of anything the reference says that reminds you of things you liked from previous vendors that worked well for you.

5) Ask the reference to identify a time they were less than pleased with the vendor and ask how the vendor handled the situation.

Here are some questions I ask my vendor references. Please feel free to use any of them to help you in vendor selection:

• What were you hoping to achieve by hiring the vendor’s services? Do you feel you achieved them?
• What would you wish had been different about your project or your relationship with the vendor? If you could have changed one thing, what would it have been?
• How long did it take before you saw the results of the project? Did the vendor stay on schedule?
• How did you know when the vendor succeeded at what was promised?
• How well did they understand your needs?
• How did they handle conflict-resolution?
• What was their response time to your questions or requests?
• Did the vendor exceed your expectations?
• Is there anything else I should consider before I hire this vendor?
• Would you hire this vendor again? Do you have plans to hire them again?

Asking open-ended questions and getting the reference to talk provides you with the best information. Listen carefully for cues that may indicate that they may be glossing something over or trying to be nice because they don’t want to say anything bad about the vendor. If you hear any red flags, ask about them.

Always respect your references’ time and don’t linger on the phone. Thank them for sharing the information with you. Be sure to take notes so you can compare any notable words or phrases with other references you speak with.

What techniques have you found to be successful in getting informative references? Please chime in below…

How to answer reference check questions

You might think, hey, no big deal, it’s just a website, right? So you could cite the link like any other.
But I believe that to correctly cite a specific answer on Quora you need to actually cite that specific Quora answer.

How do you do that? Let’s go walk through an example together.

So let’s say you want to cite Michael Lopp’s answer to this question: What do good directors do that good managers don’t?
Under the profile photo of the person who wrote the answer you can click the grey date, which will take you to a special link with just that answer on it (in this case: )

Copy that link, and paste it into Citationsy. The next step is super easy: Citationsy will automatically fill out all the fields correctly, fetch the date the answer was written and who wrote it and so on, and enter the correct title (in this case: Michael Lopp’s Answer to “What do good directors do that good managers don’t?”).

How to answer reference check questions

All you have to do is click Continue and the Quora answer will be added to your bibliography with the correct link, author, title, and publisher.