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Are Reference Checks Worth It? Recruiting Experts Weigh In

A few days of playing phone tag and a 20-minute conversation with two or three different contacts-Is it worth your time? Our team of recruiting consultants debated this topic recently. The conclusion we came to was, yes. However, our objective in conducting these has shifted.

Typical reference check questions ask if the candidate is someone they would recommend or want to work with again. You often get blanket responses such as “he/she was a great employee”. These are great in confirming our hiring decisions, but they don’t give us much information that we can actually use in the future. We found that conducting reference checks in this way was just checking a box in the hiring process and was rarely used after a hiring decision was made.

To make references more meaningful, we suggest adjusting your reference questions to gather details on the softer skills in order to best assimilate the candidate into your organization. The odds are that most references will be positive, so gathering insight into how he/she is motivated or communicates is much more valuable.

Here are some great questions to make a reference check more productive:

  • What advice would you give his/her next supervisor?
  • How would you describe an instance where the candidate had to adapt to a new environment or situation?
  • When needing to give constructive feedback, how would he/she receive and handle that information?
  • How do you describe his/her supervisory style?
  • How does he/she like to be managed?
  • What is a common misconception people had of the candidate?

Once you’ve obtained responses, don’t let your reference checks be filed away in an employee file. Share the insights with the hiring manager. This valuable information should help the employee integrate into the organization and team with ease.

What are your thoughts on the benefits of reference checks? I would love to hear from you! – I am a recruiting consultant with Fahrenheit Advisors. We match talented professionals and impactful executives capable candidates with varied roles within hundreds of organizations. For more information about how our Executive Search Services please visit our website

About the Author

Amanda Maino is a skilled human resources professional with expertise in recruiting, developing, and engaging employees across a variety of industries including professional services, higher education, transportation, and technology. Her broad understanding of human resources issues combined with a focus on benefits, compensation, and wellness programs allows her to implement Fahrenheit’s strong, customized hiring process. She partners with clients to understand their business, industry, and culture and then strategically sources qualified candidates.