How to do Reference Checks More Effectively(1)


After months of hard work- you finally found your perfect candidate. You identified them, screened them, spent weeks with them in the interview process and are ready to extend an offer and have them join your team.


But first it’s time to… check references? Anyone see the problem here?


Reference checks can serve as a great tool but only if you’re going into it from a place of curiosity.  The goal should be to acquire information that will help onboard them and assist in structuring their first 30/60/90 days for success.


You’re looping someone in that has no vested interest in your company’s success and will undoubtedly speak in the best interest of their friend or former colleague if they’re prompted to. If you’re using the reference check to qualify the candidate still, you’re wasting everyone’s time.


Instead – get value out of it by asking questions that provide value.   


Here’s how to do so.


Once you’ve connected with the reference – set the stage. Start with “We are planning to present an offer to Joan, we are excited for her to join our team – we would be hiring her to do X. (define the position, what you are looking for her to achieve, why you hired her)


Continue with “I am reaching out today in hopes you can help with her transition into our environment. We want to make this successful – we have spent a lot of time assessing her background and are confident in our decision – you can help in Joan’s success by providing some insight on your experiences working with her.”


I am looking to identify any areas I should have my team focus during the onboarding process and during her first 90 days with our team.”


Once you set the stage here are 6 questions you can ask that will uncover that information.


  1. “What advice would you give to us to help get Joan up to speed quickly?”


  1. “When Joan was onboarding with your company, what were some areas that she struggled with?” (applicable to managers)


  1. “What were some areas of development you were working on during performance reviews?” (applicable to managers)


  1. “What would best allow Joan to succeed in this role?”


  1. “Based on what I told you about the role, what challenges could you anticipate the Joan having?”


  1. “If you were to hear in six months that Joan had left, what do you believe the reason would be?”



If you uncover any major red flags during this process – it’s time to dig deeper with the candidate – addressing it and come up with ways avoid the red flags causing an issue. If you are uncovering flags on most references you check – that’s an indication that you should look deeper into your overall assessment and interview process, as something may be amiss.