Use These Top Reference Checking Tips Before You Hire

June 15th, 2016

reference checking

By Michael Solomon, 10x Management Co-Founder

While it can be time consuming, the applicant’s reference check is one of the most important aspects of hiring and should not be dismissed or taken lightly. At 10x Management we match the best freelance tech talent in the world with companies that want to change the world. And given the frequency and rigor with which we check references of new freelance tech talent, we are often asked for tips and tricks to make the most out of the process.

A properly executed reference check allows you –

  • to verify that the individual is who he or she claims to be
  • to gain insight into how he or she is viewed by peers
  • to find out information that the candidate didn’t provide in his or her resume or interview


Below you’ll find not just the questions we ask when checking references, but the entire process from start to finish.

  1. Permission: First, email to ask if they would be willing to speak with for you for 15 minutes about the candidate you are looking to hire. This seems basic, but you’d be surprised how many people just call us out of the blue to check references on people we’ve worked with.
  2. Schedule: A time at their convenience. Send out a calendar invite, and be clear you’ll be calling them.
  3. Start with Gratitude: Begin the call by thanking them for making the time to speak.
  4. Respect their Time: Remind them that you will only need about 15 minutes, and be sure to stick to it.
  5. Create Clarity: State that your main objective is to find out how best to utilize and manage the person. It is more likely that you will get productive and balanced feedback.
  6. Promise and Deliver Discretion: You won’t get honest feedback if the other party thinks you might share their feedback with the candidate.
  7. Provide Context: Very briefly, describe your company and the role so the reference has some context.
  8. Ask the Right Questions:
    1. In what capacity do you know the candidate (checking for consistency for what the candidate told you)?
    2. What were the candidates best qualities and how did that manifest itself in their work product?
    3. What is their single biggest strength or best quality?
    4. Do you remember a time they did something that was really amazing and helped them stand out as a great employee?
    5. What are their weakest areas? How can you best support these deficiencies and help them grow?
    6. How should the candidate be managed to optimize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses? Give some explanations of what you mean by this (micro management, left to their own devices, inspired, given lots of responsibility, etc.)
    7. Is there anything that really stood out about the candidate?
    8. Compared to other people in this job, how did they rank on a scale of 1-10 and why?
    9. What else should I know? What didn’t I ask that would be good to know to help this person succeed?
    10. Would you hire the person again?
  9. Assess Their Answers: Most people won’t give a negative reference. They actually might expose themselves to a lawsuit. Instead of a negative reference, they might give an apathetic or neutral reference instead. Truly exceptional candidates tend to get effusive feedback from their references.*
  10. Finish with Gratitude: Thank them again for their time and ask if you may email them if you have any additional questions.

Remember that hiring the right people for the job or project is one of the most important responsibilities a business owner or management has. There are many different aspects to the hiring and interviewing process, but one of the most important responsibilities is checking references. We recommend keeping the above questions in mind and make reference checking a priority as you move forward.

*NOTE: Many large companies with strict HR policies will only verify employment dates. Don’t read this as a negative, since it may be company policy. There are some who believe that supervisors who have good things to say will breach the policy to help a former employee they like and while this may be true, you can never really know so this is not a good measure of someone’s capabilities (or lack thereof).

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You might also enjoy reading, When Finding Talent – Everyone Needs a Personal Shopper.