Even with the amount of easily obtainable info that can be found while researching candidates online, there still isn’t an adequate substitute for making calls and talking to references. Confirming the validity of a candidate’s resume and interview responses with a credible source is more reliable than looking at their LinkedIn profile (where candidates may choose to embellish), and taking just twenty minutes of your time to call your candidates’ references before you extend a job offer can help you to avoid making a bad hire. In order to glean the most information possible from your conversations with references, have a list of questions ready that will guide the conversation and help you to make a quality hire.

On your list, make sure to include two categories of questions: questions that validate the information on the candidate’s resume, and questions about the candidate’s personality and performance. Depending on the reference, you may only receive basic feedback; however, if they are feeling chatty, you may find out further information that will help you to hire the right candidate for the job.

The following list of questions will both help you to confirm the information given to you by the candidate as well as encourage the reference to elaborate, giving you insight into how well the candidate would fit in with your company.


  • What is your title within your company and in what capacity did you work with _____?

Starting the conversation with this question allows you to gauge the manner in which they will respond to your questions since their responses will depend on their relationship and familiarity with the candidate. If they were coworkers who had a friendly relationship, their responses may be a bit bias and more forgiving; however, if they were a manager who didn’t have daily communication with the candidate, they may not be able to give you answers beyond what is written down in their file.

  • When did _____ work for your company? Would you be able to confirm start/end dates?


While this question is simply a matter of the reference checking records, you can use it to ease into the conversation and find out if the candidate’s resume aligns with what their reference has on file. Ideally, the candidate alerted their references that you would be reaching out to them so that they have the information on hand.


  • What was their starting/ending salary?


The response to this question is very helpful if you are planning on extending a job offer, as it will help you to ballpark a starting salary for the candidate based on their previous salaries. It will also help you to avoid lowballing the candidate and remain competitive.


  • Would they be considered eligible for rehire with your company?


By asking this question, you are really inquiring about the manner in which the candidate left their previous position without asking if they left on good terms or were fired. The reference may simply give you a “yes” or a “no” response, but if you are lucky, this question will open up the conversation for them to talk further about the candidate’s performance, strengths and weaknesses.


  • What was his/her title in your company, and can you please describe his/her roles and responsibilities.


Again, this question helps to validate the information that the candidate gave you on their resume and during their interview. Unfortunately, candidates may choose to embellish these details to make themselves more marketable. If you find that there is a discrepancy between the candidate’s resume and the information obtained from their reference, consider moving to a candidate who was more forthcoming about their actual work experience.


  • Did _____ switch positions or receive a promotion while working for your company?


As the reference answers this question, they may give away some very important details regarding the candidate’s drive and desire to move up in their field. Their answer will also tell you if the candidate is willing to take on new tasks or positions within the company should the opportunity become available.


Unfortunately, there are times that you will not be able to reach a reference or you receive very little information about the candidate. In these cases, use what information you are given in addition to researching the candidate online and trusting your gut to make the best hire possible.