The hiring process is a time-consuming task. Attracting talent, interviewing applicants, checking references, and running background checks are just some of the pieces of your recruitment process. This can all feel overwhelming if you don’t have a hiring manager. When it comes to checking references, we will give you the basics of what to ask and what kind of information will help you make informed hiring decisions. 

What is a reference check?

A reference check is a precautionary measure that employers take to ensure that a candidate’s employment history is accurate. Generally speaking, two to three references will suffice. During this exploratory call (or email) with the applicant’s references, you will investigate whether the applicant will be a good fit for the new position with your organization. 

Additionally, a reference check serves as a way to spot potential red flags by asking critical questions during interviews with the candidate’s past employers. 

Why should you check references? 

Performing reference checks allows you to verify that the candidate has not embellished or lied on their resume or during their interview with you. When you call a reference, you can fact check, verify employment history, identify possible inconsistencies, and learn about the applicant’s overall behavior, work habits, and other helpful information for your hiring process. 

Key Questions to Ask During Your Reference Check Conversation

You can ask several questions during your reference check conversation with an applicant’s past employer. Simply put, Business News Daily suggests a few categories of questions you will want to ensure you touch on to maximize your conversation with the previous employer.

Talking Points


Introduce yourself and gently lead into the conversation. Get the basics, such as the candidate’s employment start and end dates, salary, and job title.

Get to know the reference

This allows you to understand better who you are talking to and get a brief overview of how they are connected to the company your candidate worked for and in what capacity they interacted with your candidate. 


These questions will be specific to the applicant’s job (s) with the company. You will dive in to find out what their strengths and weaknesses were and what their job duties were. 


Asking questions of the manager will assist in understanding how it was managing this employee and how they handled direction. You can ask for any additional input that may be helpful to you. 

Co-worker related

If the candidate managed other employees, you could inquire about their management style, how they helped others to learn, and any areas for improvement with their managing others. 

Ethics and behavior

Finally, these questions will allow you to dive deeper into the kind of person your applicant was on the job and throughout their time with the company. This is a perfect place to ask about whether or not the reference would rehire the applicant. 

Key Questions

  1. What was it like to work with this candidate?
  2. How did they take direction?
  3. What would you say were the candidate’s strong points? Example?
  4. Areas for improvement? Example?
  5. What were some of the candidate’s most significant accomplishments while working with your company?
  6. How did they handle challenges?
  7. Are they dependable?
  8. Do they work well independently?
  9. Why did they leave?
  10. Are they re-hireable?

Final Advice

As you can see, checking references is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time and knowing the right questions to ask to make the most of reference checks. 

A few final pieces of advice to pass on to ensure you hire the right candidate for your organization:

  • Always inform the candidate that you verify references.
  • Work your way into the more challenging questions.
  • Always make your questions open-ended.
  • Check social media platforms.
  • Make your life easier and ensure you get the right fit – work with a staffing agency!

If this all sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is! Elite Staffing takes the guesswork out of the hiring process. Get convenient access to qualified workers in the hospitality industry and skip the reference checks – we already handled that. 

Build your workforce today!