Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

Checking Job Seeker References

It’s no secret that references are an important part of the job search for job seekers. In fact, references can make or break a job seeker’s chances of getting the job. As a hiring manager, you are already well aware of this. You may have had what you thought was a great job seeker, but when you called up their references you weren’t so sure anymore. The call you make to the references of job seekers is important and you have to be ready to ask the right questions.

Before you pick up the phone to contact your job seeker’s references, take a moment to read what you should be asking these past employers and how you can get the most information on this job seeker.

Personal References
Before you even start gathering references from job seekers, you should specify what kind of references you require. Even though some companies allow job seekers to use personal references, you should only be asking for past employers. If you open up the field to personal references, then you can’t be 100 percent sure who you are speaking with and how valid the information they are giving you is. If you are looking to hire for an entry-level position, then the access to past employers is difficult- or non-existent. In this case, you can accept references from past educators, volunteer managers or internship leads. These contacts will provide much more information than personal references. On top of that, you can be more sure they are legitimate.

Avoid Close-Ended Questions
Much like in interviews with job seekers, when you are calling references you want to be sure to ask questions that will give you rel answers. When you ask candidates questions that can be answered by a simple yes or no, then you aren’t truly gathering any information from them. The same goes for references. You should ask open-ended questions- that is, questions that require more than a yes or no to answer- so you can gather as much information as you can.

Dates of Employment
As a hiring manager, you are likely well aware of the possible issues that can arise from taking a reference call for a past employee. If you say the wrong thing you may find yourself in legal trouble. So when you are the one asking references for information on a candidate, you want to be sure you stay on topic. The first question you should ask is about the job seeker’s dates of employment. With this you can be sure the job seeker is telling the truth. By the same token, you should ask references for the candidate’s job title and their role. What did they do for the company? Is it what they stated on their resume? In a rough job market, job seekers may be more apt to embellish on past jobs. Check up on this and be sure what they have on their resume is all true.

Why Did They Leave?
It’s important to find out why this job seeker left their former employer. Were they let go due to financial struggles the company faced? Did they leave because they found a better job? Were they fired? The answer to these questions can give you a wealth of information on job seekers, so be sure to ask. If they were fired, it is up to the reference to decide if they want to tell you why.

What Were Their Strengths?
It’s easy for job seekers to tell you what they think their strengths are. When you ask references of job seekers though, you may get a very different answer. Ask this past employer what your candidate’s strengths were to see if they align with what you need out of this position and what the job seeker told you in the interview. Do they match?

Did They Fit in with the Corporate Culture?
As you already know, hiring for corporate culture fit is very important. If you make the wrong hire and the employee fails to mesh well with the corporate culture, you may have to rehire. That can cost you thousands of dollars. So be sure to hire for fit and ask a candidate’s references about their experience with the corporate culture of the company. What was the corporate culture? Did they fit in? Why or why not? This can be very valuable information in your hiring process.

Other questions you may want to ask are on the candidate’s punctuality, work ethic, motivation and attendance. These are dependent on you and what you need, of course, but can be very helpful in your decision making process. Just be aware that some employers might be hesitant to answer questions of such detail for fear of saying too much or giving too much of their opinion on the call. When employers do this, they open themselves up to possible legal issues with the job seeker.

What are some questions you ask references when you are checking them for job seekers? Do you go beyond employment dates? Let us know about it in the comments section below!

Best Practices in Cultural Hiring [E-Course]

Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter