How To Reference Check Candidates Diligently.

How To Reference Check Candidates Diligently.

How to thoroughly reference check candidates. | CareerSupport365
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Exaggeration is rife

A study of 300 Australian employers found 82% of respondents believed candidates lied or exaggerated their skills and experience on their LinkedIn profiles.

But hiring managers who rely heavily on recommendations and claims made in a candidate’s LinkedIn profile or résumé are cutting corners and creating problems down the line as it did for Yahoo, when Scott Thompson was caught falsifying his experience. 

Instead, I suggest that hiring managers take a more considered approach and revert to the trusted reference check (where ever possible.) 

Ahead of anything else I reference check the referee.

Ahead of reference checking the candidate, I have learned from bitter experience to check out the referee.

To do so, I spend time calling an office to check how genuine the referee is – do they work at the employer; I check the referee’s LinkedIn profile and even the referee’s Facebook page.

Is the referee the person the candidates asserts they are?

Whilst hiring managers find that most people are honest, I have discovered situations where referees have been nowhere near as senior as the candidate said they were; that the referee had a different title; that the referee was the candidate’s lover (found by checking out the referee’s Facebook profile); that the referee no longer worked at the employer and much more.

Once the referee has been verified, I can be confident to reference check the candidate.

Before asking the referee questions, the hiring manager should broadly explain the role for which the candidate is being considered.


Once the referee is validated, here are 9 questions I recommend to garner accurate information that provides a confident and discerning reference check.

1. How do you know the candidate?

What’s behind this question?

It’s important to have the hiring manager confirm that a candidate and a referee ever worked together and to assess their relationship.

By knowing the specific nature of the relationship, a hiring manager can better assess the context of the reference that is provided.

2. Can you confirm the candidate’s job title, dates of employment, and work duties?

What’s behind this question?

Always verify the candidate’s job title and dates of employment to be sure the information provided is accurate.

If you cannot get an accurate picture of the dates of employment, I suggest that you ring the employer and speak with or e-mail  the Payroll Department for fact checking.

Read out the responsibilities and achievements claimed in the candidate’s résumé or LinkedIn profile and check with the referee they are true and accurate.

3. How would you describe the candidate’s work performance?

What’s behind this question?

Although LinkedIn asks the LinkedIn community to report false claims, it is still easy for candidates to make audacious claims on their LinkedIn profiles and résumés. So it is absolutely 100 percent necessary for you to validate what is on the candidate’s LinkedIn profile and résumé.

I suggest that the hiring manager reads out the list of claims from the candidate’s résumé and asks if the referee could verify that what was claimed is indeed accurate.

I’ve experienced many situations where I’ve learned that instead of delivering the result themselves or leading a team that did, the candidate ended up being a part of one and they participated on the team in minor roles.

4. How would you describe the candidate’s work ethic?

What’s behind this question?

The intent here is to ascertain how the candidate delivered, responded to mistakes, worked within a team, focused on the end goal, met deadlines, and so on.

5. What are the candidate’s blind spots?

What’s behind this question?

At interview, hiring managers often steer towards strengths and what was delivered successfully. But it is equally important to find out what things might occur time and again that might de-rail the candidate at work.

Read more about 10 de-railers here.

6. How was it like to work with the candidate?

What’s behind this question?

It’s critical that the candidate fits in to the team and the culture.

Asking this question helps to shed more light on the candidate’s inter-and intra-personal skills; how reactive or proactive they were; how confrontational or collaborative they were; and so on.

Read more about cultural fit here.

7. When and why did the candidate leave a position?

What’s behind this two-pronged question?

First of all, checking dates that the candidate was employed helps to verify any gaps or fudging of employment history (very common) ; whether they are still employed – assuming they claim they are.

Asking reasons for leaving helps to verify the candidate’s story gleaned at interview or on their LinkedIn profile or résumé. For example, it helps to understand if the candidate left as a result of a contract completing, or due to a performance issue and so on.

8. Hypothetically, would you work with this candidate again?

What’s behind this question?

If a referee only has the time to answer a single question, it should be this.

It is also very telling whether a referee is open to work with the candidate. It brings the reference checking process to a pointy end.

This is why I suggest to leave the question towards the end.

9. On the basis of the job for which we are hiring, is there anything else I should know about the candidate?

What’s behind this question?

Here, the referee has an opportunity to offer information openly about the candidate.

For example, even if a previous question did not seek information about the candidate’s attention to detail, the referee might offer some information about their messiness, organisational ability, if they jump to conclusions, and so on.


With any reference check, it’s important for hiring managers to ask the right questions. It’s critical to validate employment history claims. Remember a large proportion of information given by candidates is exaggerated.

Diligent reference checking gives the opportunity for referees to endorse the candidate or for the referee to raise enough caveats that the hiring manager might just sense the need to pull back or investigate further.

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About the author:


Greg Weiss is one of Australia’s most renowned career coaches. He is the author of “So You Got A Job, WTF Is Next”. The book prescribes a proven, practical 7 step guideline for new employees so they succeed, rather than fail their probation periods and beyond. Find out more about the book at

He is the Founder and Director of Onboff an online training and coaching platform that helps HR specialists, coaches and recruiters to deliver exceptional onboarding and offboarding experiences for employees.

Greg also hosts The Keep: The Employee Experience podcast and runs CareerSupport365.

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Greg Weiss

Greg Weiss is the founder and director of Career365 and Australia’s leading career coach. Greg has coached well over a thousand people from recent graduates to CEOs as they pivot, re-launch and accelerate their careers. He is the author of three practical books and the creator of three online courses: “Career Clarity. How to find career fulfillment”; “Career Networking. How to unlock the hidden job market”; and “Career Success. How to succeed in your new job”.

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