How to Conduct Reference Checks That Actually Matter


Reference checks are a critical component of the hiring process. They allow employers to gain valuable insights into a candidate’s work experience, skills, and character from those who have worked with them in the past. However, many employers struggle with conducting effective reference checks that provide meaningful information. In this article, we will discuss how to conduct reference checks that actually matter.

  1. Develop a Reference Check Plan

Before conducting reference checks, it is important to develop a reference check plan. This plan should include a list of questions that are relevant to the job requirements and a clear process for collecting and evaluating the information obtained. The plan should also ensure that the reference check process is consistent and fair for all candidates.

2. Obtain Consent from the Candidate

Before conducting reference checks, it is essential to obtain written consent from the candidate. The candidate should be informed that reference checks will be conducted and asked to provide a list of professional references. The candidate’s consent is necessary to ensure that the reference check process complies with privacy laws and to avoid any potential legal issues.

3. Contact the References

Once the candidate has provided a list of references, it is time to contact them. It is essential to speak directly with the references, rather than relying on written responses or email. This allows for a more in-depth conversation and the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. It is also important to schedule the reference check in advance and ensure that the reference has enough time to provide a thoughtful response.

4. Ask Relevant Questions

When conducting reference checks, it is important to ask relevant questions that are directly related to the job requirements. These questions should be open-ended and allow the reference to provide detailed responses. It is important to avoid leading questions or questions that could elicit biased responses. Questions may include:

  • Can you describe the candidate’s work style?
  • How did the candidate handle conflict or difficult situations?
  • Can you provide an example of a time when the candidate demonstrated strong leadership skills?
  • How would you rate the candidate’s communication skills?
  • Can you speak to the candidate’s ability to work in a team environment?
  1. Listen for Red Flags

When conducting reference checks, it is essential to listen for any red flags or concerns that may be raised by the reference. These red flags may include negative feedback about the candidate’s work performance, attendance, or behavior. It is important to ask follow-up questions to understand the nature of the concern and to evaluate its relevance to the job requirements.

2. Evaluate the Information Obtained

After conducting reference checks, it is essential to evaluate the information obtained. This involves comparing the information provided by the reference to the candidate’s application and resume. It is also important to consider the relevance of the information obtained to the job requirements. Employers should use the information obtained to make informed hiring decisions and ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the job.

3. Provide Feedback to the Candidate

After the reference check process is complete, it is important to provide feedback to the candidate. This feedback may include a summary of the information obtained from the references or any concerns that were raised. It is important to provide feedback in a constructive and professional manner and to avoid any personal or discriminatory comments. Providing feedback can help the candidate improve their job search and make informed decisions about their career.


Conducting effective reference checks is essential for making informed hiring decisions. By developing a reference check plan, obtaining consent from the candidate, asking relevant questions, listening for red flags, evaluating the information obtained, and providing feedback to the candidate, employers can conduct reference checks that actually matter. By using the information obtained through reference checks, employers can ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the job and the organization, and ultimately, ensure the success of their business.


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