Checking references should be a key part of learning more and digging deeper into a new potential employee. After all, this is someone you may spend more time with than your own family!

Here are 10 critical questions to ask during reference checks:


  1. “How would you describe the candidate’s ability to {innovate, manage, lead, deal with ambiguity, get things done, influence others}? Can you give me an example?”
    • Pick the issue or area key to the candidate’s success.


  1. “What would you consider to be this candidate’s legacy while working with you?”
    • Check for alignment with what the candidate has shared during their interview.


  1. “In what type of culture/environment and role can you see this person excelling? Conversely, in your opinion, what type of role or environment would cause this candidate to not be able to perform at their top level? Why?”
    • Is this a match for your company?


  1. “We are strongly considering this candidate for the role; What management style would bring out optimal success for this candidate?
    • Again, not looking for the ‘gotcha’, just seeking alignment in style/preference of the candidate and manager.


  1. “Would you describe the candidate as {a leader, a strategist, an executer, a collaborator, a thinker, something else}? Can you give me an example to support your description?”
    • Pick a trait that is essential to the open role. Ask where the candidate is the weakest as well.


  1. “How would former coworkers describe this candidate? Would they want to work with them again?”
    • This is an important question to ask if this role requires a lot of collaboration.


  1. “Compared to other people you’ve worked with in the same type of role, how would you rate this candidate’s overall performance: below average/ average/ above average/ leader of the pack? Why?”
    • Some managers are more critical than others; listen with context.


  1. “How would describe this candidate’s level of intensity or urgency. Can you give me an example?”
    • Does the position they are being considered for have a lot of deadlines?


  1. “One challenge the candidate will likely face in this role is XXX. Can you think of a time when they may have had a similar challenge? What was the situation and outcome?”
    • This is a great question to determine the candidate’s ability to work through difficult situations.


  1. “Would you hire this person again? If so, why and in what capacity? If not, why not?”
    • Listen for any additional helpful information about what this candidate brings to the table.


If you don’t get a call back from a reference, ask for another from your candidate. The strongest performers have a network of colleagues that they can provide as references. If a candidate has ‘lost touch’ with every old boss or colleague…BEWARE!

Don’t let this task get avoided or rushed through. If you would like assistance crafting questions specific to the role you are hiring for, giv