To the list of things that people either love or hate — Tom Brady, cats, brussels sprouts — we can safely add reference checks. Fans see them as a sure-fire way to uncover candidates’ abilities and to learn if they are likely to be a phenom or a fiasco. Haters, on the other hand, find them to be a complete waste of time.
One of the reasons reference checks can feel unproductive is that many companies put no structure in place when asking candidates to list references. Predictably, they end up with the contact info for the prospective hire’s BFFs, who will invariably say the candidate is:
But when reference checks are done right, they can be hugely helpful and be the difference between hiring the right or wrong person. So to help you get more out of this process, we’ve done our research and laid out who are the best references to talk to and the best questions to ask when checking references to get the information you need.
- When making reference calls first identify yourself, the company you’re with, and the person that has listed them as a reference.
- Make sure it’s a good time to have a brief discussion or if a reference call should be scheduled for a later time.
WHAT DO EMPLOYERS ASK YOUR JOB REFERENCES?
How to prepare for reference checks
Taking an active part in the reference check process can make it go more smoothly for both you and potential employers. Follow these steps to prepare:
1. Confirm your reference list
Contact your potential references once you begin your job search to confirm they are willing to speak with potential employers. Express your appreciation if a reference appears hesitant or refuses, and try your next option. It is best to have references that will readily provide positive feedback. If a potential reference accepts, offer your gratitude and confirm you have the correct contact information such as phone number and email address.
Make sure to update your references on your career progress if you haven’t talked to them recently. You can also give them a current version of your resume so they can review your professional history, skills and achievements. Try to use people you have worked with in the past five years so potential employers will get a more recent perception of your work.
2. Contact your references in advance
Human resources will typically notify you when they plan to contact your references. Let them know as soon as possible so they have time to prepare. If you are interviewing for multiple positions at the same time, provide a job description for each role so they have context for their conversations.
3. Have your character reference letter ready
When choosing someone to write this letter, consider a person who can attest to your positive traits and knows you well. Examples of people who may make a good character reference include:
What is a reference check?
A reference check is when potential employers contact your references to verify your employment history and skills. When you applied for the position, you may have been required to provide a resume reference list, or a document containing relevant background and contact information for your professional references. Hiring managers rely on these references to:
Human resources (HR) or hiring managers will usually contact your references by phone or email.
What to expect from reference checks
Hiring managers will ask a variety of questions to gather a complete understanding of your work history and how it relates to the potential role. They may inquire about:
Your interview answers and resume
One basic but critical purpose of reference checks is to confirm that your provided information is accurate.
The standard questions you should expect potential employers to ask your references include:
These questions establish your relationship and can set the tone for the remainder of the reference check.
Your job performance and skills
In addition to confirming details that you provided during the hiring process, reference checks also allow hiring managers to learn more about your performance at previous jobs.
They may ask questions like:
The answers to these questions can help hiring managers assess if they are willing to learn new skills and are interested in career growth.
Your strengths and weaknesses
Hiring managers typically ask questions like, “What are the candidate’s greatest weaknesses?” and, “In what areas might they require additional support when first starting in a new role?” Questions about your weaknesses can assist hiring managers in learning more about your problem-solving abilities and critical thinking skills. Your references can identify the challenges you experienced and how you overcame them.
Potential employers may also inquire about your greatest strengths with questions such as, “In what areas does the candidate excel?” or, “What are the candidate’s best qualities?” The answers to these questions can highlight your skills and how they could transfer to the position. If your references review the job description, they can respond with strengths that relate to the role. They can also answer with their perspective of your best assets.
Asking questions such as, “Did the candidate work best with a team or alone?” or, “Does she prefer specific instructions for a task or to work out a solution on her own?” provide hiring managers insight into your work style. This information can streamline the onboarding process and build a better relationship between you and your future manager.
HR might also ask, “In what type of work environment is the candidate most likely to thrive?” The answer can provide information about whether you are a good fit for the company culture and pace.
Reference checks can play a vital role in the interview process. Potential employers use them not only to verify your employment history but also to gain information on how you function as a coworker and employee. Positive references can distinguish you from other candidates and make hiring managers more likely to remember you.