7 Great Questions to Ask an Applicant’s References

Article main image
Jun 24, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Verifying the information on a potential employee’s application or resume helps prevent or limit the risk of making a bad hire. By talking to an individual’s personal and professional references, you have the opportunity to gather more information about the person and his/her work ethic. While you discuss the candidate with the provided references, clarify specific claims with carefully chosen questions that help you assess the information and verify the individual’s ability to handle the tasks ahead.

How Are You Related to the Candidate?

A candidate’s relationship to his/her references provides a specific perspective on the topic. For example, a previous employer or manager will have insight into the individual’s work ethic and the way that he/she responded to mistakes at work. On the other hand, a co-worker might help determine the individual’s ability to work on a team and the way that he/she interacted with peers.

The candidate’s relationship to his/her references also allows you to understand the individual’s point of view on other questions. It tells you where the individual observed the candidate so that you have a frame of reference for the person’s answers.

How Long Have You Known the Candidate?

A long-term relationship provides a greater amount of insight into the candidate’s work ethic, abilities, and interests. It also verifies information on a resume or application, which helps determine if the candidate exaggerates.

What Are His/Her Weaknesses? What Are His/Her Strengths?

Candidates do not always recognize their greatest weaknesses or their greatest strengths. In some cases, a third party helps identify the strengths and weaknesses that a candidate overlooks in an interview.

A reference will also explain the way that weaknesses impact the candidate’s ability to handle certain tasks or the way that teammates helped balance weaknesses in the past. The question also recognizes the strengths of a candidate and the way that a strength improves a team’s dynamic, efficiency, or ability to accomplish specific tasks.

Would You Trust the Candidate with Large Sums of Money, Children, or Fragile Individuals?

Depending on the nature of the position, the specific concern you want to address will vary. For example, if the individual will work with older adults who might have physical or mental health concerns, then he/she needs a compassionate and patient personality. The same is true when working with young children. For companies that work with large sums of money, the concern focuses on the financial aspects and a trustworthy employee will select investments with risk management in mind.

How Does the Candidate Relate to Others?

Relationships within the office provide a preview of the way an individual works with clients. It also helps determine if the candidate has the skills to take on specific roles in a company.

While it is not necessary for a candidate to get along with every co-worker each day, you do not want an employee who constantly causes conflict at work. Ideally, a candidate will relate well with others and discuss conflicts in a calm and mature way.

How Did the Candidate React to Stressful Situations?

Stressful situations arise in any job or position. Upcoming deadlines, conflicts with peers, client dissatisfaction, or even an upcoming performance review adds stress to an employee’s day. The way that a candidate handles stressful situations helps determine if an individual has the skills you need for a specific position.

Be wary of candidates who handle stress with anger, conflict or inappropriate behaviors. Walk away from candidates who handle stress in negative or inappropriate ways.

Would You Hire the Candidate?

If the reference is a previous employer or manager, then asking whether the individual would hire the candidate for the same position helps sum up the entire conversation in a single question. It determines if the candidate has a strong work ethic, gets along well with peers, and has the ability to handle different tasks at work.

When the reference determines that he/she would not hire the candidate, ask for a reason. Do not assume that the reason stems from poor work ethic, since it may also stem from the individual’s decision to leave a place of employment at an inopportune moment.

Hiring a new employee always raises questions and concerns. Each candidate will have different strengths, weaknesses, and skills that help a company grow and thrive. Fortunately, discussions with professional references help you identify the best candidate for a specific position.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!