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3 Steps to Getting the Most Out of Reference Checks

Beyond Blogs 3 Steps To Getting The Most Out Of Reference Check  Blog

The reference check is an indispensable opportunity to find out more about a candidate from someone who has worked with them in the past and discover whether they’re really as great as they seemed in the interview. Reference checking is also what stands between a good hire and having to advertise for the same role a few months down the track – so it’s important to get it right.

To help you get the most out of this vital stage of the process and ensure you’ve got all the information you need to make the right hiring decision for your business, here are three essential steps to take when reference checking.

1. Plan Ahead and Take Notes

If you have ever been caught out by a seemingly promising candidate who was unable to provide a proper referee in the final stages, then you’ll understand the frustration and disappointment involved. To avoid this situation, it’s imperative to lay down the ground rules from the onset. From the first interview, make it clear that you place importance on reference checking by asking candidates to give an indication of who they would provide as referees.

Being completely upfront and honest has two key benefits:

  • Candidates won’t be taken by surprise when you request their referees in the final stages and will understand that it’s a compulsory step in the hiring process.
  • You’ll have an opportunity to see if there is any hesitation or negative body language from the candidate, which could indicate that reference checking might be a problem later on.

Remember, you may only get one shot to speak to the referee, so it’s essential to prepare ahead of time and plan the areas you want to touch on. Reflect on the core skills and competencies needed for the role, and if necessary, note these down to refer to during the reference check and ensure you keep the conversation focused.  

Finally, remember to take notes while talking to the referee so that you can revisit the discussion later. Another good option is to create a spreadsheet where you can compare the feedback from each referee you speak to.

2. Do Your Due Diligence

There are certain moments in the recruitment process when we have to put our “detective” hat on. When conducting reference checks, always do your due diligence and cross-check details to confirm that the information provided is true and that the referees are indeed who the candidate says they are. Keep an eye out for any red flags such as inaccurate details or inconsistencies by:

  • Confirming that the candidate provided the correct contact details
  • Looking them up on social media, such as LinkedIn, to find out more about them and double check the business they work for and job title – does this information match what you’ve been provided?

3. Ask the Right Questions

To get the most out of this important step in the process, you have to ask questions that will prompt the referee to talk about the candidate’s actual experience and past behaviour.

We’ve put together a list of useful reference check questions to add to your list:

  • How would you describe [the candidate]? How would their colleagues describe them?
  • During their time under your management, what were their main achievements?
  • Where could [the candidate] develop further? Where do you see them 5 years from now, professionally?
  • Were there any major setbacks that [the candidate] had to deal with? How did they manage those setbacks?
  • Has [the candidate] showed initiative in their role? Can you give an example?
  • What would you say are his/her most impressive personal qualities?
  • Can [the candidate] handle pressure? Have there been times where they didn’t cope well under pressure and how did they respond to it?
  • What is the best way to manage [the candidate]? How can his/her next manager ensure they bring out the best in him/her?
  • Why did [the candidate] decide to leave your company?
  • If you had a chance to hire [the candidate] again, would you? What role would you put them in?
  • Is there anything else that you think we should know that could help us in making our final decision?


Recruiting a new member of the team can take up a lot of time, money and resources, which is why it’s important to make every effort to get it right the first time! Reference checking is an essential part of hiring that should be done thoroughly to avoid getting blindsided later down the track. Don’t forget that when you work with a recruiter, they will simplify the process and take on a lot of the hard work of the critical reference checking stage.

For more information on best practice reference checking and other hiring advice, contact the team at Beyond Recruitment – we provide quality recruitment services across a range of industries all over New Zealand.

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