9 Questions to Ask Candidates' References

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9 Questions to Ask Candidates' References
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9 Questions to Ask Candidates' References

Hiring the wrong person can be detrimental for any employer. Twenty-seven percent of employers report that a single bad hire can cost more than $50,000, according to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey.

One way to reduce the number of bad hires is to focus more on the information arriving from candidates' references.

According to a 2012 CareerBuilder survey, 3 in 10 of responding employers said that when they checked a candidate’s references, a professional contact did not have positive things to say. In addition, 29 percent of the employers surveyed detected a false reference on a job seeker's application.

To avoid bad hires and glean the most accurate information, ask these nine questions of candidates' references:

Related: What Makes Job Seekers Lie on Their Resumes?

1. What is your relationship to the candidate? This question allows a hiring manager to confirm whether a job seeker and a reference ever worked together and perhaps to assess their relationship.

For instance, the reference could be a previous boss or a co-worker. In knowing the specific nature of the relationship, a hiring manager can better gauge the information provided.  

2. Can you confirm the candidate’s job title, dates of employment and work duties? According to a 2010 OfficeTeam survey, 36 percent of the managers surveyed wanted to learn about a candidate’s previous job experience and responsibilities.

Always verify the candidate’s job title and dates of employment to be sure the information provided is accurate.

3. Can you describe the candidate’s work performance? It’s easy for candidates to make bold claims on their resumes. But there's is no better way to determine the validity of such statements than by asking a reference.

This question helps hiring managers project how well a candidate might perform on the job.

Related: How Far Would You Go to Check Out a Job Candidate?

4. Was the candidate accountable in performing tasks? When asking references this question about a job seeker's work ethic, hiring managers should find out how the person reacted to a mistake and whether he or she could be held responsible for meeting deadlines and completing projects.

5. What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? According to the 2010 OfficeTeam survey, 31 percent of hiring managers want to learn about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses when talking to a reference.

This question can help hiring managers determine how easily the individual can be trained and whether he or she is a good fit for the position.

6. What was it like to work with the candidate? This line of inquiry helps hiring managers determine whether a candidate is a good cultural fit for the organization. It can reveal the candidate’s personality, communication skills, how well he or she takes direction and if the person is a team player.

Related: Startup Hiring: The Basics of Pre-Screening Job Candidates

7. Why did the candidate leave a position? Not only might the answer to this question be illuminating but it can also help managers gain insight into how long a candidate might stay with a new organization.

8. Company policies aside, would you rehire this candidate? Whether a reference would rehire a candidate can sum up an entire conversation prior to that point, which is why it’s often asked near the end. If there’s only time to ask a single question, this should be the one. Don’t forget to drill down to find out an explanation why.

9. Is there anything else I should know about this candidate? By asking this, hiring managers can find out specific details about a candidate not addressed in previous questions.

For example, even if a previous question didn't inquire about punctuality, the reference might now be prompted to offer an observation about a candidate's late arrival to work.

What questions do you believe are important to ask when checking references?

Related: The Strategy Behind Weird Interview Questions

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