17 typical reference check questions in an interview process

17 typical reference check questions in an interview process

What are the most common questions you'll receive from assessors and what could be the best way to answer?

Executing a solid and compliant reference check is the first step to ensure that you are hiring the right candidate for your organization.

References are important because they can verify information that you might not be able to get from other sources.

For the duration of an interview, you should never ask any questions about family or religion, but there are three main categories to keep in mind when talking with references: past job experience, performance, and character.

Sometime assessors could also not try to be tricky but get tricked by themselves by getting along with the conversation and overboard questions that are part of the scope of their call or the borders of legitimate interest. For this reason it is important to get a little bit ready or make up your mind since the moment a candidate wil inform you that they gave your contacts for a reference check. In 90% of the times, you should feel honored so - congratulations!


  1. What is or was your professional relationship wtih the candidate?
  2. How long was the cooperation with the candidate?
  3. Could you somehow score or rate the quality of their work?
  4. In the candidate's role what were the daily responsibilities, tasks and duties?
  5. What was the level of independence and punctuality they were working with?
  6. How did the candidate take directives and orders?
  7. Is the candidate a teamplayer in your opinion? Please argument.
  8. What was their reason to leave the past company?
  9. What are the candidate's strenghts and liabilities?
  10. Does the candidate work best in a team or independently?
  11. How would you define his/her communication and listening skills?
  12. Was there any factor or event significantly affecting the work performance?
  13. Would you rehire them or work together again?
  14. How much they were appreciating supervision?
  15. What about their work-life balance and their abilities to perform under stress?
  16. Would the candidate be able to perform the role in the focus of this discussion?
  17. Anything else to add on the candidate?


  1. I am a former employee/manager of the candidate. I left the company in October 2018;
  2. The cooperation with the candidate was for a period of two years (especialy if it is in the past, you don't need to mention the date but just approximately the years).
  3. The candidate was /was not completing his tasks with accuracy, punctuality and attention to details. In several cases he didn't provide additional support when the job required to go beyond the job description (describe the level of ownership and accountability the candidate took on his/her shoulders).
  4. (Remember that nobody expects you to recall someonelse's job description but you can just confirm if the person was a manager or not, or a specialist in what field and what was his role within a functional matrix.
  5. This is already a delicate question. If the past work relation described is older than 2-3 years, this question might be almost not to be considered. Especially a junior/medior candidate can mature a lot in 3 years and you don't really want to judge them describing an old job description. If you want to mention anything specific, please explain to the assessor calling you that the candidate at that time was eventually learning a brand new job or under some training. This might seem obvious but unfortunately many sourcers or recruitment assistant calling you for a reference check might not be experienced enough to take this factors into consideration.
  6. This is again a tricky question. It is important to give a feeling to the assessor if the candidate might be a bit of "rebel" at every order he receives but at the same time we shouldn't consider a rebel an employee that in some cases has a wider background or experience than his manager and tries to show alternative logics or solutions for the same problem. In many cases, efficiency and optimization can heavily benefit from team brainstorming. Often managers are not involved in practical tasks and they might miss an important perspective of a problem. It is not only a duty but a great help to discuss negotiable topics and offer valid alternatives. Also if it seems the opposite, multinational companies are built on differences and if everyone uniforms always under the same perspective, slowly also Innovation will start to disappear.
  7. When we write our CVs we always put this "teamplay" thinking that it is a great thing to show on a CV. This is generally appreciated, especialy if in the practice the candidate is able to coperate with others when needed. Also in this case, there is a hidden question behind this wording. We need to discern several teamplayer profiles. There are individual contributors who aren't desperately seeking for their teams'advices or coperation but they are brillantly creating synergies when needed. At the same time, in our Work Map several candidates scored as essentially needing a team of coworkers to be able to feel good or perform well and not every job has some clear teamplay involved on recurring basis.
  8. This is one of the most tricky questions, even if the assessor doesn't really want to make it tricky for you. Saying that someone left for burnout or got fired or made redundant might not be enough and could also be very misleading. If we are not sure, let's try to avoid guesses but in case we know what was the termination reasons of the candidate's career in a company we should really handle this information professionally. The vox-populi that someone got fired might have been a gossip with many other reasons behind or could be also true but protected by a mutual agreement (that doesn't qualify as unilaterla termination). Also saying that someone was fired after 3 years because he got a new boss that had a different perspective on the competencies needed to perform a job could be a wrong message to the assessor. If you want to go into details, be ready to provide details otherwise just avoid to give wrong hints.
  9. This is a question you are called to answer in a double vest: the first is about the memories of an ex-colleague but the second is a professional opinion related to the future job description he will be hired for. Meanwhile you could be very well acquainted on the first, try to ask more details regarding the second point we mentioned.
  10. Also this question, as the teamplayer one is strictly an opinion of yours and should be taken as such by the assessor. We can only suggest you one diplomatic answer. If the candidate in question always worked alone with individual tasks try to give a particular value to this topic or viceversa regarding their contribution to a team. It will be the assessor job to match this considerations with the organisation they are recruiting for.
  11. Generally, professionals are hired with a minimum level of communication skills already there. Obviously many could develop them more and in many cases they work on it. What you could add on top of this question is if the candidate was really standing out for presentation skills, clear communication, appropriate wording at every occasion. Communication skills are always important but consider that the degree and type fo communication needed in Finance is totally different from the ones needed in Sales for instance.
  12. This is a very open question regarding the possible sensitiveness of the caniddate that could have brought to an underperformance, external factors or also some pandemic or boss change. If you have concrete examples provide it otherwise if you want to describe the candidate as a normal person with high and lows do it clearly and with the right level of balance.
  13. This is completely up to you :) but don't forget in any case to provide some good reasons for it.
  14. This is a tricky question. Not all the best employees appreciate supervision and very often this topic depends also from the experience and comunication/management skills of the supervisor. Especially i nthe last 10 years, many supervision methodologies changed rapidly to better accomodate also new generations of employees. Not all managers have been good enough in changing and updating their knowledge together with it. This is a two way interaction and doesn't depend only from an employee.
  15. In this answer you can be very honest and don't forget to also mention your opinion about the right work and life balance. Differently from colleagues, managers usually tend to appreciate hardworking employees but they also need to be able to recognise "the healthy" way of performing a job and teach it to others.
  16. Here you need to give your personal opinion but don't forget that when you don't see them for while people develop, study, get more mature and undergoes several life experiences that change them. When RED. Recruitment contacts for references tries to offer a different experience to candidates, referees and assessors. As experts regarding candidates' skills and organizational job mapping we usually try to offer a more meaningful reference check and we also flag when we consider a role "not enough" challenging for a candidate profile. In other cases, we highlight why a job would be perfect for a current candidate that is actually still developing in those skills. We believe this is connected with ambition, motivation and personality traits and we try to measure also that with our Assessments.
  17. In this question, feel free to add examples or stories that are validating what you said until now and enriching also with other perspectives the reference check but avoid to disclose accidentally personal stories that might not be appreciated by the candidate. Keep it always strictly professional. If you want to share memories about the candidate with someone, do it with the candidate after your reference check, invite them for a drink and remember the good old times.

We pretty much covered all the possible scenarios of most common reference checks but if you want to give us a personal perspective to share and enrich this list, feel free to contact us on our Facebook page sending us a message or commenting this post.


As you can see, Reference checks are very insightful but also insidious surveys and especially with the arrival of ePrivacy and GDPR regulations (we mention some hard rules here on our blog) more and more referees are just simply switching the language tone to a diplomatic "corporateese" that became boring and not really insightful as it should be for hiring managers. This trend risks inevitably to destroy a very useful practice in the Talent acquisition procedures and endangers many organizations that are already heavily struggling in sourcing candidates especially for countries like Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic where the unemployment rate is so low that 80% of the efforts in recruitment are spent in candidate sourcing and attraction. Once you find candidates, you need to rush to drag them in the minimal amount of steps of an interview process and rush to give them an offer and start the onboarding as soon as possible.

Here is a very ancient quote from Lao Tzu, one of the most popular ancient Chinese philosophers:

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.


For this reason at RED. Recruitment, we decided to take a different approach to reference checks we provide as a service to our clients. Our service is based on the following features:

1. Fast: We provide a survey to the referees that can be completed with manual text input or voice messages. Like an app to chat with friends? Yes exaclty, with the only difference that our AI powered surveys are transcribing automatically the referees voice in text and also executing a sentiment analysis on the reference check transcription itself. Besides being fast for the referee, it makes it fast als ofor us to ask for one, two, three or four references. We just send it with a click and then referees can work on their "homework" at the same time anytime.

2. Self paced and technology augmented: We are always talking about employer branding but then we remember about it only in front of candidates that are struggling to accept an offer or talking with fresh graduates in a job fair. Referees are not only a valuable source of information on you hire today but might be your candidates in the future. It is extremely important to also provide them a great experience and convert them to "promoters" if we want to use a language close to the NPS and customers'feedback. When a referee receives a reference chck that RED. Recruitment is operating they can actualy complete it comfortably whenever they want before or after a long day of back to back meetings or financial closures without having to interact with being compelled to be called by a human in office time.

They can easily complete it without opening their laptop at home and in many cases, we can hear the background sound of a gas station or a park with kids playing. This means that with few taps and a quick voice record they can easily provide pieces of insights at their own pace.

3. Unbiased: Nowadays, in candidate driven markets and not only the reference check became a very administrative task and for this reason, HR departments started to delegate it to very junior talent acquisition roles (i.e. interns, researchers, HR assistants, trainees) and you can't expect these talented by young professonals to be able to have a meaningful conversation regarding past experiences, backgrounds, soft skills and corporate dynamics. This practice, understandable but that we don't recommend, not only endangers the candidates'future but also empties out the peculiar value of a reference check. Our system has obviously the intervention of human agents (experienced recruitment consultants) but only at the second step when they listen and read at the provided feedback and the AI results to get also a second opinion and better read the intent and the sentiment behind the provided information. We actually work on this more than a classic reference check but instead of "judging" words we prefer to read and analyse data as a more objective and consultative approach in the new era of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.

4. Replicable: Our clients can listen to the reference checks and add on top of our expertise also their feedback and considerations. Data is stored for the sole purpose of the interview process and deleted when it becomes unnecessery.

5. No need for language knowldge worldwide: The world is becoming more and more global and nowadays cross-country teams and reporting lines are very frequent and involving tons of different languages. To have a conversation in the future with a referee you might need assessors (recruiters) speaking several languages. For our AI "transcribe" is only the first step followed by "translate". If you need to collect a reference check from a native French speaker this feature makes things easier for the referee as much for the recruiter.

We believe this is how technology combined with the expertise of our consultants can truly make your recruitment process different, better, more innovative and aligned with a new millenium of global digital professionals and talents.

For more details on our reference check services visit our related reference check service page.