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Reference Check Marks

by Randall Craig on September 18, 2007

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Promotion, Recruitment

Tagged as: ,

Reference checks are probably the most unknown – and sometimes scariest – part of the recruitment process. When someone checks your references, what do they ask? If you are asked to “call the applicant’s references”, what questions should you use?

Essentially, reference checks are used to verify resume and interview information, look for “red flags”, and rank close final candidates. They are used for new hires, and also internally for promotion candidates. Here is a list of typical questions:

  1. What is your relationship to the applicant (former colleague, manager, etc)?
  2. Are you related to the applicant?
  3. How many years have you known the applicant?/How long were they employed by you?
  4. How often do you have contact with the applicant?
  5. Where has the applicant been employed?
  6. What was their title? Can you describe the applicant’s responsibilities?
  7. On their resume one of their accomplishments is listed as ____; is this accurate?
  8. Strong points?
  9. Challenges?
  10. Is the applicant professional in manner and appearance?
  11. Are you aware of any history of inappropriate behavior?
  12. How would you rate the applicant’s communication skills; both verbal and written?
  13. How does the applicant handle stress and/or pressure?
  14. Any reason to question the applicant’s trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, or reliability?
  15. Would you recommend the applicant?
  16. Any additional comments?

Clearly, if a reference is going to say something negative, it’s best that you ‘fess up beforehand, complete with explanation. If you don’t come clean in the interview, you’ll be hurt twice: once for the negative issue, and a second time for attempting to “conceal” it.

If you are asked to call for references, don’t just limit yourself to these questions: if there was an area in the interviews that needs corroboration, ask the references about it.

This week’s action item: Go through each of these questions, and answer them in writing about yourself. If you can’t give yourself check marks for each one, don’t expect your references to.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)



Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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