Four reference-checking questions that uncover new insights

20 May 2024 by Neil Rose

Done well, reference checking is far more than a box-ticking exercise. It’s a vehicle to uncover new information on your preferred candidate, from their skills and experience to cultural fit. Online reference checking allows you to thoughtfully consider and plan your questions, but are you including the right ones? We asked Referoo CEO and founder Neil Rose to weigh in on the questions that have the most impact for Referoo clients.

Four reference-checking questions that uncover new insights

1. In this role, the candidate will be required to <insert top responsibilities>. How do you think the candidate will perform?

Why ask it: Understanding the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities the candidate had in a previous role can be helpful, but relating the question to your role can uncover real insights and give the referee more context. It can be helpful to ask this one early for that reason.  

2. How did the candidate contribute to the team and organisation?

Why ask it: Impact is incredibly important and framing it this way gives the referee freedom in how they respond. They may focus on the candidate’s results, teamwork, initiative, cultural inputs, a combination or something else entirely, but it’s likely to give you some new insight.

3. Would you rehire the candidate if the opportunity arose, and why/why not?

Why ask it: This question can be particularly telling and gives the referee an opportunity to add new information or expound further on a previous answer. By being both a yes/no question and asking for context, you can glean a lot from this one.

4. Is there anything else it’s helpful to know about the candidate that we haven’t discussed?

Why ask it: This open-ended question allows the referee to provide additional insights or highlight achievements that haven’t been covered but could be crucial for your decision-making process.

Focus on your knowledge gaps

Rose also adds that it is important to be clear on your areas of concern, dealmakers and deal-breakers before conducting reference checks.

“Ask yourself what you need to know – where you have outstanding questions and ensure you have customised the reference check to fill those gaps,” Rose says.

He adds that it’s important to go into the reference-checking stage prepared to learn more about the candidate rather than looking to confirm your initial belief that the candidate is right for you.

“When you’ve invested a lot of time in progressing your preferred candidate, it can be hard to adapt to the idea that they may not be ideal after all. But it’s important to be prepared to have your views reinforced or challenged in the reference-checking process to get the most out of it.”

“If you’re clear on your dealmakers and breakers before you hit send on your reference check, it can help ensure you don’t overlook red flags.”