14 questions to ask your candidate’s referees

Posted by | April 8, 2019 | Employers

Checking a potential employee’s references is crucial for any role. It can provide a good overview of the candidate’s suitability for the position. It may give insights into levels of ability and, depending upon questions asked, into things such as work style and ethics. It can also highlight any potential red flags or areas where an individual may benefit from additional support in their new role.

Beyond the basics, if you have a do-good role that requires an extra special someone – there may be additional or particular areas you want to gain extra information on. This could relate to things such as the individual’s passion and values, helping to highlight what will keep them motivated on a daily basis.

Providing referees with a brief outline of the position and skills required can help to give them relevant context within which to answer the questions posed.

In terms of recruitment best practice, there are questions that should form part of any reference check. These are included below:

The basics

  • What is your relationship to the applicant?
  • How long have you known him/her?
  • (if they worked with the applicant) How long did you work with them?
  • Why did they leave the role?

Job specific

In terms of the competencies outlined in the position description, asking some specific questions pertaining to these could provide some useful information about the applicant’s capabilities. These questions will obviously vary depending upon the requirements of the role.  As referees often only have limited time, you may want to focus your questions on those areas where you were unable to gain sufficient information during the interview, or those areas that form the most crucial elements of the job.

So for instance, if the role entails handling money, you might ask something such as:

  • Would you have any reservations about placing this applicant in a position of trust with respect to handling large sums of money?


As a potential employer, it can be helpful to gain some insights into what motivates the applicant before they start working with you. This is useful for establishing the ‘fit’ with the role they have applied for and also for future development/training needs as well any additional assistance needed on the job. You could ask questions such as :

  • What is the applicant’s favourite part of their current role (or the role they did when working with you)?
  • And least favourite?
  • If you had to give 3 words to describe the applicant at work what would they be?
  • What would you say drives the applicant at work?
  • What are they most passionate about?

Strengths and development

Further questions can offer insights into the applicant’s areas of strength and development needs, as well as how to most effectively manage them at work.

  • What advice would you give to his /her new manager /team leader if the candidate is successful in gaining this role?
  • What type of environment are they best suited to (provide examples if needed eg working autonomously, closely with others, fast-paced, frontline or behind the scenes…etc)
  • Would you employ him/her again?

Wrap up

  • Finally, is there anything else we should know about the applicant before we make a decision?


Lastly, thank the referee for their time and input.


2 Responses to “14 questions to ask your candidate’s referees”

  1. Comment made by Sustainability Trust on Apr 16th 2019 at 2:23 pm:

    Great read. Under the job specific – I would add that if you are employing anyone who will be working with children or vulnerable people, then it is critical to ask the referee something like “would you have any concerns with the person working with children or vulnerable people?”

  2. Comment made by Do Good Jobs on Jul 9th 2019 at 11:07 pm:

    Thanks for this addition Susie. For some reason I didn’t get notified there was a new comment, so have only just seen, and approved this comment 🙂

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