It’s natural for job seekers to put themselves forward in the best possible way on a CV and even more so in an actual job interview. So when hiring for a role, how do you know if the candidate is stretching the truth, either on paper or at the interview process? Do you rely on your own tuition to ascertain whether they will fit your job role and the company culture you’ve created?

This is where reference checking is so invaluable. Getting a second opinion on a candidate you are considering hiring gives you the opportunity to ask more specific questions to a former employer that are specific to the role you are seeking to fill. Reference checking can give you additional information beyond their CV about the candidate’s skills, knowledge, character and behaviour as well as to verify the specifics of their previous employment.


In your job advertisement, include wording that specifies what type of references you would like the candidate to include on their application, such as written references or phone/email contacts, and also how many. One to three is generally the standard.

At the interview, ask the candidate for permission to contact the referees they have provided so they are aware that you will be doing so.

Let referees know that whatever information they provide you will be kept confidential and not shared with the applicant so that they feel confident they can speak to you more openly.

Don’t ask questions about a candidate’s personal life, such as their age, sexuality, family status, religion or country of origin. This line of questioning can be perceived as discriminatory, plus it’s actually illegal to ask them anyway.


The trick to effective reference checking is to be specific with your questions. Consider what answers you would like to receive then design a question accordingly. Avoid anything that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” or that is too vague. Highlight information from the candidate’s CV that you would like to question or learn more about.

LinkedIn recommends 11 questions that should be the framework of any reference checking that will apply to most industries. Of course you can tailor these to your own job description and when it comes to hair and beauty, enquire on technical expertise, client consultation or selling retail.

1. Tell me about how you and (candidate) worked together.

Find out when they worked together, how closely and for how long, as well as the candidate’s job title and responsibilities.

2. Did (candidate) have any major successes while working for you?

This can be a way of verifying any claims made in an interview. It’s also a way of better understanding a shyer interviewee who perhaps isn’t confident selling themselves in an interview.

3. Describe some of the most important duties your role entails and ask how the candidate would rate on each one.

This is a good way of understanding the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and whether they will be a good match for your job, or whether you might want to consider tweaking the role a little.

4. What are (candidate’s) greatest strengths?

See if these answers align with your perceptions of the candidate at the interview, from their answers to your questions and also the information on their CV.

5. In what areas could additional support improve (candidate’s) performance?

This is a roundabout way of enquiring about an applicant’s weaknesses and will provide you with great insight that could have taken you months or longer to discover. Incorporating the possibility of support measures or extra training for a new employee from the start will demonstrate your investment in them and their career growth and could make a big difference to their confidence and performance from the start.

6. Was (candidate) a good communicator and listener?

This will give you insight into how the applicant deals not only with clients, but also with their team mates. Positive team culture is a massive draw card to today’s job seeker, and it only takes one bad apple for the cart to be upturned. Someone who is a team player, considerate of their co-workers and popular with your customers, will be an asset to the business.

7. Did (candidate) receive any promotions whilst working at your business?

If the answer is yes, that’s a positive sign. If the answer is no, it’s not always a negative. Find out why – perhaps it was a small business with only a few employees so there was no ladder to climb. However if it was because of poor performance or lack of skills, this could be an issue.

8. On a scale of 1 to 10, compared to other people you’ve hired, how would you rate (candidate)?

You’ll be hoping to hear an 8, 9 or 10 here. Anything less, find out why and whether the candidate had the potential to score higher if certain measures were put in place.

9. Why did (candidate) leave your company?

To validate what the applicant told you during the interview.

10. Would you rehire (candidate)?

Here you’re looking for a “absolutely”, “definitely” or “without hesitation”. Anything less, particularly from more than one referee, could be a red flag.

11. Is there anyone else you’d recommend I speak to about (candidate)?

This can give you a different perspective on the applicant aside from the boss, such as a co-worker or someone who worked underneath him or her. Sometimes people clash – it doesn’t always mean that the candidate won’t be suitable for your position.

Reference checks are a great way for hiring professionals to ensure a candidate is a good fit and learn more about what they’ll bring to the table. A strong reference checking process can also give you a huge head start on managing a new employee. The insights can confirm or eliminate any embellishments, inconsistencies or even lies on a CV or during an interview. Sometimes it can also reveal some shining qualities in a candidate that you hadn’t considered for potentially an alternative or new position in your business.

By mastering the art of conducting effective reference checks, you can successfully make the right hires for your business, ultimately improving collaboration, performance and retention, all while strengthening your company culture.