Performing A Reference Check For Employment: The Dos And Don’ts

performing a reference check for employment

Gathering references is a process well known for filling hiring managers with dread. I can understand why. It can seem like an exhausting extra to the, already long, hiring process. After weeks of chasing and interviewing candidates, the last thing a hiring manager will want to deal with is difficulties obtaining a reference check for employment, or even worse, receiving one that they weren’t expecting.

Many people question whether they are important. The answer is – yes. To put it simply, they are incredibly important! It’s not a process you want to omit and then regret later down the line if issues start to appear.

Performing a reference check for employment FAQs

Before discussing the dos and don’ts of references, it’s important to cover what employment reference checks are and why you need them.

What is a ‘reference check for employment’?

A ‘reference check for employment’ or ‘reference’ as it’s normally referred to, when requested in a professional capacity, is usually from a potential new employer to a previous employer. References can also be requested from teachers and professors, or from someone who knows the candidate in a capacity outside of the workplace/education. Although, this is usually if someone is looking to secure their first job and does not have a professional reference.

Ideally, when you request references for a potential new hire, you want to obtain two professional references, with at least one from their most recent employer. Hearing from their most recent employer will be very useful for understanding their current skillset and gauging whether a candidate would be suitable for the role or not.

References can be basic with a simple confirmation of their job title and start/end date. A more detailed reference may answer questions you choose to put to the ex-employer about the candidate’s experiences and time at the company.

However, it is important to note that businesses are not obliged to provide a reference, basic or detailed. I have known companies to sometimes be hard to chase for references or refuse to give any details more than confirmation that the candidate worked there. This can put future employers in a tricky position if they want more information from a past employer, but the references do not include any.

Why are references important?

Employment reference checks are an easy way to validate claims made at an interview. This should not be taken to assume candidates are lying or exaggerating. Moreover, the references can help you get a fuller picture of the candidate’s previous work experience.

References are important to the hiring process as they can provide an insight into how the candidate likes to work and complements the team culture. Interviews can feel limiting at times. It is not always easy to see whether a candidate will be a good fit for the company.

Can this be outsourced?


If you’re working with a recruitment agency to source the right candidates and handle the hiring process, remember to ask them about their employment reference check process before you engage them. They should be able to look at the reference checking process for you!

Working with a recruitment agency like VIQU on the full hiring process will save you time and money. I know how some hiring managers find references quite an unpleasant task. Save yourself the stress and pass it on to your chosen recruitment company. You can choose the questions you want to be asked and let the agency gather the references for you.

Employment Reference Check: Dos and Don’ts


  • If you do decide to collect the references yourself, give yourself time to contact the referees. It’ll likely take you a lot longer than you expect. Ex-employers may be busy trying to find a replacement for the candidate so might not be quick to respond.
  • Offer different options for the format the reference can be in. You might have a preference, but any response, via email or phone, is better than no response.
  • Have set questions – don’t try to make it up on the cuff as it’s likely you will miss something out.
  • Make all the information confidential – you might be receiving potentially sensitive data so you will need to be compliant with GDPR.
  • Try to request references from direct line managers or other people on the team. These are people who will know the candidate best and have the most experience working with them. Some leave references to HR managers or administrators, but they’re not likely to give the most accurate information.
  • After reviewing the references, consult the candidate if there are any discrepancies or issues arising from the references – there might be a simple explanation.


  • Base your whole opinion of a candidate on their reference. References can be insightful but don’t disregard a positive interview on a not-so-shiny reference.
  • Expect them to respond straight away with full answers. You don’t want them to rush and miss something.
  • Assume a basic reference is a sign of a bad hire. Some people are only comfortable giving basic details such as start/ end date and job title. It doesn’t mean it’s because they had issues with the candidate.
  • Enquire into a candidate’s personal life – children, health issues etc. This could open claims of discrimination if you refuse to offer a job based on that information.
  • Skip an employment reference check because you are running low on time. Ignoring a reference check can mean issues go unchecked and you could be back at the beginning of the hiring process in no time. It is better to outsource this than not to pursue references at all.

Common employee reference check questions

  • How do you know the candidate?
  • What would you rate the candidate’s [specific job role] skills?
  • Did the candidate undergo any disciplinaries during their time at your company?
  • How would you rate the candidate’s overall job performance?
  • Tell me about the candidate’s working relationships with peers and co-workers.

These are just some of the important common employee reference check questions you should be asking. But also consider specific questions about their competency for the job role itself. Finding out how the candidate fits in with a team and their attitude around work, can give a greater frame of reference on how they will be as a new hire.

Overall, references are a vital part of the recruitment process. If you skip this procedure, you may regret it later if they are issues that could have been avoided had you contacted the referees.


If you need any help during the hiring process, click here to contact our experienced team of recruitment professionals for assistance.

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