6 questions to ask a candidates references

6 Questions To Ask a Candidate’s References

To really understand whether a candidate would be the right fit, it’s always a good idea to talk to the people who know best: their references. By speaking with a candidate’s references, “hiring managers can learn about projects they assisted with, get a better idea of how they interact with team members and ask about intangible items like punctuality and ability to meet deadlines.”

“A resume doesn’t paint the entire picture of a candidate’s experience/ background.”

— Jane Pesch, Senior Staffing Manager at WinterWyman.

Here are some of the top questions to ask your candidate’s references:

1. How would you describe the candidate’s reliability and dependability?

Why Ask This Question?

Recruiters often expect qualities like reliability, punctuality, self-motivation and the like to be givens in a candidate, not differentiators. But that doesn’t mean you should simply assume that a candidate possesses these traits without checking first.

2. What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?

Why Ask This Question?

There’s a good chance you’ll ask the candidate what their strengths and weaknesses are during the interview itself, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also ask their references. The similarity between the two responses can show you how self-aware a candidate is, and can also give you better insight into whether or not the candidate is a good match for your particular company and the role at hand.

3. What was one of the candidate’s most memorable accomplishments while working with you?

Why Ask This Question?

The difference between a good candidate and a great candidate can often be traced back to whether they regularly went above and beyond their everyday responsibilities — something this question does a great job of shedding light on.

4. What type of work environment do you think the candidate would be most likely to thrive in, and why?

Why Ask This Question?

You want to verify that your company is the right place for the candidate. If your company isn’t the sort of place where a candidate can thrive, they’re much more likely to underperform or quit. If the reference describes an environment different than your own, it shouldn’t necessarily be automatic grounds for dismissal — but it can “expose areas to explore further” with the candidate to verify that they are indeed eager to work at a company like yours, Richards says.

5. What skills would you have liked to see the candidate develop to reach their full potential?

Why Ask This Question?

Very rarely will you encounter a candidate who meets every one of your desired qualifications, but asking a question like this will help identify voids in the candidate’s skills. It can also help you assess the candidate’s willingness to work toward improving in those areas.

6. Would you recommend this candidate?

Why Ask This Question?

It’s a straightforward question, but one that shouldn’t be ignored. Some references may feel obligated to highlight positive things about the candidate when asked about their strengths and weaknesses or accomplishments, but with a question as blunt as this, it will be much more apparent whether they are truly enthusiastic in their endorsement of a candidate — perhaps the best predictor of a candidate’s future success.

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