What You Should Ask References for a New Hire


Not everyone takes the time to call a prospective employee’s references. Many feel that the resume and work experience speak for themselves. Others just may not have the time and consider checking references to be optional.

But references can actually be much more important than many think. If you wouldn’t visit a new restaurant or make an online purchase without reading the reviews first, why wouldn’t you treat your hiring the same way?

The Importance of References

The primary purpose of calling references is to ensure that the candidate wasn’t lying on their resume, but they can provide so much more information than that. It’s difficult to know ahead of time whether a new hire will be good or bad. There’s always a risk with every prospective employee, but contacting references helps mitigate that risk. You can find out ahead of time that a candidate wouldn’t be a good fit for your company.

Alternatively, you may find that a candidate with a less impressive resume could be a perfect fit.

What to Ask References

Contacting references is important, but it’s more valuable if you know the right questions to ask. Start by getting to know the person you’re calling. Find out who they are and what relation they have to the candidate. If the reference is a work reference, ask how that person worked with your candidate and how long that was.

This information can tell you how much weight you should give to the reference that the person gives. The word of someone who worked with the candidate for longer and in a closer capacity should be considered more strongly than someone who did not.

Check for Fit and Red Flags

Whether or not a candidate is a good fit for your company isn’t something you can necessarily determine from the resume alone. Ask the references how well the candidate handled stressful situations and pressure, whether they got on well with their coworkers, whether the candidate worked best alone or as part of a team. You can also ask about any problems or issues that came up while the candidate was employed with the reference.

If there aren’t any red flags that come up, asking these types of questions can help you to see if the candidate will be a good fit. They can also tell you how best to manage the candidate should you choose to hire him or her.

Skills, Strengths, and Weaknesses

The candidate will have listed their skills and abilities on their resume, but asking a reference for this information can confirm what the candidate has said. In addition, ask about the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s best to know ahead of time what weaknesses a candidate have so that you can better help them grow after they’re hired.

Ask the reference specifically if he or she believes the candidate could handle the responsibilities and tasks of the job that they’ve applied for.

Front Load Your Questions

Just like you, the references you’re calling are very busy people. Make sure to ask the most important questions first. If the reference then has to cut the call short, you’ll still have the answers you needed. These first questions should be the ones that the candidate and the resume can’t answer alone.

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