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The 2019 Ultimate Guide to Reference Checks: Asking The Right Questions and The Right People

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

It is that time of the year again: a position in the company is vacant and you must embark on another recruitment journey to find the one. You are presented with the names of the shortlisted candidates, together with several contact details of referees who could attest to their performance in their previous work experience. There goes the never-ending back-to-back email correspondences and awkward phone conversations with the candidate to request for their references as well as with the referees themselves.



Someone could have really impressed you and your colleagues during the interview, but is he a great person to work with? Reference checks could help you clarify your doubts. Although tedious, they are necessary as it provides qualitative insights into the candidate’s work ethic and attitude beyond the first impressions generated at the interview. There are many guides out there providing sample questions you could ask during a reference check. However, what are the right questions that will aid you in your judgement on whether the candidate would be a great fit for your company?


Additional read: Are reference checks really necessary?


Asking the right questions

When questions are not specific to the job or related to what you heard during the interview, the objective of your reference check is reduced to a formality. Conducting reference checks out of practice’s sake could not only leave you with an employee who is all hat and no cattle, but you may also end up with someone who is a poor fit for the culture of the company.

Refer to the interview that you had and think about what was written on their resumes. What do you wish to know more about the candidate’s past experience at work and what do you think needs a follow-up? More importantly, focus on questions that relate to areas you are concerned about - for instance, would this person assimilate well into the dynamics of your team or would this person thrive in the organisational structure of your company?


Scenario-based questions would also be essential in these instances. Draw up a story (a common situation that the potential candidate would have to deal with in your company) when communicating with the referee and ask if they had ever witnessed the candidate being in such a position. “Our company will require A to work independently and meet tight deadlines, could you give me an example of how A did in such a situation when working in your company? What were his responsibilities and what was the outcome?” If the referee admitted to not seeing A in such a context, ask them how they think A would deal with such scenarios and listen to the insights that they have.


In addition, always make sure to leave your questions open-ended. Supplying the referee with the answers will make them feel less inclined to provide details as they will only choose from the ‘options’ that you have given them. “I have heard that A carried out a major project for your company not too long ago and I understand that he worked with multiple stakeholders and subordinates during the process. He must be very good at communicating with others, right?” It is likely that the referee would agree with you to get the conversation moving.



Asking the right people

Apart from paying attention to the questions that are asked, work with the candidate to obtain references who can provide you with the information that you are keen on. To probe more into a candidate’s strategic management, you could consider speaking to their former managers. If a candidate’s leadership skill is an area that you want to find out more about, consider approaching subordinates that they worked with previously. It is also vital that you reach out to references that are as current as possible. Let the candidate know the time frame you are accepting. Just like how citations and references are done in research writing, you would want your ‘research’ on the candidate to be recent information to refer to. Speaking to someone who had last interacted with the candidate 15 years ago could let you know how he or she was like during then, but it does not provide much credibility for their performance today.


Ultimately, you want to ensure that the right questions are targeted to the right people. This will aid you greatly in your decision on accepting or rejecting the candidate.



Automation of Reference Checks

Many companies compromise on the quality of their workers and shun reference checks due to the manual labour involved in communicating with the parties involved. But how do you guarantee the quality of your employees before they are given the job? What if this hiring decision caused you to suffer more losses instead?


The automation of reference checks have since changed the game. With platforms such as robin, your team will no longer need to rack your brains to figure out what are the right questions to ask. robin adopts HR frameworks to ensure that the questions posed to referees will obtain responses that are free from positive biases. On top of that, the questions that are included in the questionnaires can also be customised according to the needs and requirements of the respective job positions in your company!


robin is expanding and is currently providing free pilot rounds to interested companies! Don't miss out and click here to reach out to us so that you can try out the magic of robin today.

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