Essential Reference Questions Every Recruiter Should Ask

April 13, 2023
Claire Stachniewska
Essential Reference Questions Every Recruiter Should Ask

What to Ask During Reference Checks

To tailor your questions to specific job requirements and candidate strengths/weaknesses, consider the role's unique demands and the competencies you want to assess. For example, if a candidate is applying for a leadership position, ask about their leadership style, how they handle conflicts, and their experience with managing teams. On the other hand, for a creative role, inquire about their approach to problem-solving, collaboration, and how they handle tight deadlines.

Asking effective reference check questions and interpreting the responses can provide valuable insights into a candidate's suitability for the role. Some examples of effective reference check questions include:In the fast-paced world of talent acquisition, comprehending a candidate's qualifications, experience, and personality is crucial for successful hiring. A key component of recruitment is reference checks, offering valuable insights into a candidate's work history and behavior. Reference questions aim to collect information from past employers or colleagues, evaluating a candidate's suitability for a specific role. These questions are essential to ensure a candidate's skills, experience, and fit align with the position and company culture.

Asking the right reference questions not only helps recruiters uncover a candidate's true potential, but also mitigates the risk of making a costly hiring mistake. To aid in this process, we've compiled a list of essential reference questions that every recruiter should be asking, drawing from expert resources and best practices. By utilizing these questions, recruiters can streamline their hiring process, make more informed decisions, and ultimately secure the best talent for their organization.

Ready to up your reference check game? Get started with 50+ ready-to-use role-specific reference check templates from HiPeople. Be sure to keep reading as we delve into the essential reference questions that can help you uncover the hidden gems among your candidates and make the best hiring decisions.


A successful reference check begins with proper preparation. One crucial step is identifying the right references to contact. Choose references who have worked closely with the candidate and can provide detailed insights into their performance, work style, and abilities. This may include former managers, colleagues, or supervisors.

Another important aspect is preparing the reference for the call or email. Prior to reaching out, inform the reference about the purpose of the call or email and give them a brief overview of the position for which the candidate is being considered. This allows the reference to tailor their responses to the specific role and requirements.

Lastly, setting expectations for the reference call is essential. Establish a clear agenda for the conversation and provide the reference with an estimated duration for the call. This demonstrates respect for their time and helps to create a more focused and efficient discussion.

Essential Reference Questions : A. General Questions

When conducting reference checks, it's crucial to cover a range of general questions that provide insights into the candidate's overall performance and work habits. These questions can help recruiters understand the candidate's strengths, challenges, and suitability for the role. Here are some essential general reference questions to consider:

  1. Can you confirm the candidate's job title and responsibilities?
  2. How long did the candidate work for your organization?
  3. What were the candidate's biggest strengths?
  4. What were the candidate's biggest challenges?

For more effective reference checks, consider building role-specific reference surveys with HiPeople that target the most relevant aspects of the candidate's experience and expertise. Using tailored surveys can help you gather the information that truly matters for the position at hand, ultimately leading to better hiring decisions. Build role-specific reference surveys that move the needle, in seconds, with HiPeople.

B. Skills and Qualifications

In addition to general questions, it's important to dive deeper into the candidate's specific skills and qualifications. Focusing on these areas can give recruiters a better understanding of the candidate's ability to perform in the role and adapt to the company culture. Consider asking the following questions to assess the candidate's skills and qualifications:

  1. Can you provide examples of the candidate's technical skills?
  2. How did the candidate handle challenging situations?
  3. How did the candidate work with others on projects?
  4. Can you speak to the candidate's communication skills?

Gathering information about a candidate's skills and qualifications is crucial for making informed hiring decisions. By asking targeted questions, you can gain valuable insights into a candidate's capabilities and their potential to excel in the position.

C. Culture Fit

Evaluating a candidate's cultural fit is essential for determining how well they will integrate into your team and organization. Understanding a candidate's work style, communication, and problem-solving approach can help predict their ability to contribute positively to the company culture. Here are some questions to assess the candidate's cultural fit:

  1. How did the candidate interact with colleagues?
  2. Can you describe the candidate's work style?
  3. What was the candidate's approach to problem-solving?
  4. How did the candidate respond to feedback?

By focusing on culture fit during the reference check process, you can gain insights into how the candidate's values, personality, and work habits align with your organization's culture. This information is vital for making well-informed hiring decisions and ensuring long-term success in the workplace. Add custom questions and cover all additional details to streamline your hiring process with HiPeople.

Asking Follow-Up Questions

During a reference check, it's important to listen carefully to the answers provided and ask follow-up questions to gain a deeper understanding of the candidate's experience and suitability for the role. Here are some tips to ask effective follow-up questions:

  1. Listen for key insights and ask for clarification to ensure you fully understand the reference's response.
  2. Probe for additional information by asking open-ended questions that allow the reference to elaborate on their previous answer.
  3. Avoid leading questions that may influence the reference's response.

By asking follow-up questions, you can gain more detailed information about the candidate and make better-informed hiring decisions. It also shows the reference that you are genuinely interested in their opinion and value their input.

Essential Reference Questions for Recruiters

Conducting effective reference checks is critical for recruiters to make informed hiring decisions. By asking the right questions, recruiters can gain valuable insights into a candidate's skills, qualifications, and cultural fit, ultimately leading to better hiring decisions. Here's a quick recap of the essential reference questions for recruiters to consider:

  • General questions: Confirm job title and responsibilities, length of employment, strengths, and challenges.
  • Skills and qualifications: Ask about technical skills, challenging situations, teamwork, and communication.
  • Culture fit: Inquire about work style, problem-solving approach, feedback response, and interactions with colleagues.
  • Asking follow-up questions: Listen carefully, probe for additional information, and avoid leading questions.

Reference questions play a crucial role in making informed recruitment decisions, helping recruiters gain a deeper understanding of a candidate's suitability for the role and company culture. To streamline your reference check process, consider using HiPeople's science-backed, compliant reference check modules to build your own survey.