Questions to Ask a Hiring Candidate’s Reference

Interview Reference

Make sure that you have your questions ready ahead of time before calling a hiring candidate’s reference.

Talking to references is a great way to gauge the potential of a future employee. A conversation with a reference should be concise and to the point, so it’s crucial that you have the right questions prepared. Of course, your questions may be heavily geared towards the type of work you provide and the position you’re hiring for. But there are a few basic questions that should always be on your list when preparing to speak to an applicant’s reference.

Confirm What You Know

It’s a good idea to double-check what your candidate has told you by asking their reference. Because a reference has less to lose if the candidate is not hired, they are more likely to tell you the truth. You can confirm the candidate’s dates of employment, salary, and job title. You can also perform a pre-hire background screening to check the legitimacy of other information, such as educational and military background and previous experience.

Ask Questions that Require Long Answers

A reference has valuable insight into the capabilities of your candidate. Many supervisors, managers, and business owners have a lot to juggle at any given time and may answer your questions with a simple “yes” or “no”. Ask questions that require insightful, illustrative answers rather than simple, one-word answers. So, for example, instead of asking “Did Jane have a good work ethic?” try asking “How did Jane prove that she had a good work ethic?” Using words like “describe” or “list” also helps to encourage a reference to elaborate.

Close with an Open-Ended Question

At the end of your conversation with your candidate’s reference, ask an open-ended question, like “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about the candidate?” This allows the reference to speak freely and mention anything that they may have had on their mind but did not come up in conversation earlier. This is the part of the conversation that can make or break a candidate. The reference’s honesty is one of the most valuable resources for hiring the right candidate.


AIR Pre-Hire in Reisterstown, MD, conducts accurate and verified universal background screening, so you will have thorough background checks on your employees. Here at AIR Pre-Hire we don’t simply check the basic information, we dig deep to identify inconsistencies and make sure your potential employees (as well as existing employees) are acceptable for hire. This is the human element of our custom pre-screening service. You can count on us for timely, verified pre-screening and employee re-screening.

Learn more by visiting our website or calling us at 1-800-469-4473. Check us out on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and Pinterest as well.


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