While we don’t know what percentage of employers check references, it’s well-established that the vast majority do. The days when checking references didn’t matter are long gone.
To better understand who to provide as references, you need to know the questions prospective employers will ask. The names you give should be able to answer the following questions confidently and in-depth.
Here are 17 of the most common reference check questions. Knowing these will ensure you pick the best people for employers to speak with.
A Quick Preliminary Note
Reference check questions assess your aptitude for a new position. If you’ve been honest from the start and choose people who know you well, there’s nothing to fear.
Be honest about your past experiences, skills, knowledge, and work history during all stages of the job hunt. References should support and expand upon what you’ve said previously.
Question 1: How do you know the candidate, and how did you work together?
Your potential employer’s list of reference check questions will start at square one. The employer will want to establish how your reference knows you and the ways you worked together.
When picking a reference, ensure it’s someone you’ve worked closely with in a professional setting. Did this person oversee you directly? Did you work together for an extended length of time?
Question 2: How was the quality of their work?
The goal of reference check questions is to see if your past work matches your potential employer’s expectations of you based on interviews and materials provided.
Employers want to know about the quality of your work. Choose a reference who’s seen you perform at your best and can share specific instances of outstanding performance.
Question 3: Did they get work done on time, and were they dependable?
Your potential employer’s list of reference check questions will likely include something about your dependability. They’ll want your reference to be able to speak to your ability to get work done promptly.
Depending on the environment of the new company, future employers may also ask about your ability to handle tight deadlines. They may want to know if you can work under pressure. The specifics will depend on the company considering you.
Question 4: For this role, we need someone who’s [insert important qualities]. How would you rate this candidate for these qualities?
When picking references, choose people who’ve worked closely with you and know specific qualities about you. Typical “important qualities” an employer may include in this question are:
- Teamwork, collaboration
Since reference check questions such as these get highly detailed, ensure the people you choose can attest to those specificities.
If you’re looking for senior leadership positions, choose references who can discuss your leadership and management skills in-depth.
Question 5: What are their biggest strengths and weaknesses?
This is one of the most classic reference check questions an employer can ask.
You likely got asked about strengths and weaknesses during the interviews; don’t fear if the reference’s answers differ from yours. Employers want to see how your perception of yourself differs from that of another person’s. This can be insightful.
Employers will be looking for strengths that match the role and weaknesses that they feel can be improved upon on the job (or that otherwise won’t impact your work at the company too significantly).
Question 6: Why did they leave this role?
There’s nothing wrong with leaving a position, but employers will want to make sure any reasons you gave match those your reference provides. Make sure you’re honest from the start if asked why you left a role.
Unsure if it’s time to quit your current job? Our guide can help.
Question 7: Do they take direction well? How do they respond to feedback?
Especially for those aspiring for leadership positions, employers need to ask reference check questions that help them understand your aptitude for growth.
To thrive, employees need to take feedback and direction well. Can you reference attest to your ability to implement feedback? Did you demonstrate the ability to take direction while working with this person?
Question 8: Do you think the candidate will thrive in this role?
Ultimately, all reference check questions seek to understand this. So, why not ask it outright?
Make sure the references you provide can speak to your ability to succeed in a new role. Even if that new role differs from your last, ensure your reference believes you’ll succeed in any position you take.
Question 9: What are this person’s primary areas for growth?
If you’re looking to climb the corporate ladder, reference checks will want to see your main areas for growth.
Needing to grow in specific ways is expected, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You want to choose references who know you well enough to speak to these growth areas.
Sample “growth areas” can include:
- Giving/receiving feedback
- Leadership skills
- Communication skills
- Technical knowledge (the specifics of which depend on the role)
Some Other Reference Check Questions
That’s not all! Here are some more sample reference check questions to be aware of:
- How does this person support their team?
- Would you rehire this candidate? Why or why not?
- What is an example of a time this person faced a challenge, and how did they overcome it?
- What is an example of a time this person failed, and how did they handle it?
- Did this person receive any promotions while working with you?
- Is there anyone else I should speak to about this candidate?
- What type of company and work environment does this person work best in?
- How are this candidate’s listening skills? Communication skills? Verbal skills? Written skills?
Looking For Your Next Job? We Have the Solution
If you’re looking up reference check questions in hopes of finding a new job, let us help.
Jennings Executive specializes in matching (aspiring) senior leaders with companies who value them. If you want to make an impact in a role you love, we can get you there. Learn more today!