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Candidate Reference Checks: Types of reference checks

Sep 14, 2020

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Once a company has identified qualified candidates for a job, it's important to complete the final due diligence by performing a candidate reference check. The two most common types of reference checks a company will use to verify candidates are Employment verification and Role verification. A good reference check is a great insurance policy when hiring, as it will not only uncover if the candidate can perform the job but also how they perform while on the job.

Viewing a candidate reference check like a formality rather than a strategic must is a massive mistake. While organizations across the globe continue to move through the recovery phase of the pandemic and recoup from the shock of reverberating financial loss, it's more important now than ever to avoid the costs of a bad hire.

And strategic hiring teams know that checking references to gain insight into how a candidate performed a job at a previous company is a solid indicator as to how he or she will work for a future employer.

If you're responsible for hiring and checking candidate references for your company, the following information will give you insight into the two major types of candidate checks, how to perform the call, red flags to look out for and also provide tips on the types of questions to ask about each candidate.

Types of candidate reference checks

When checking references before extending a job offer, there are two different types of candidate checks a company will typically perform on a candidate - and each will come with their own set of questions to help determine if the candidate is the right fit for the job.  

Employment verification

This type of reference check confirms with the candidate’s previous manager if the candidate truly worked at the company during the time period they specified.

Performance verification

This type of reference check confirms that the candidate has the right skills, personality fit and experience required for the job.

How to perform candidate reference verification calls

Each type of candidate reference check will require the hiring manager to ask questions during the call that will uncover things like whether the candidate is both qualified to perform the job and whether the candidate is a fit for the company culture. It's important for the candidate to make sure that his or her references will be aware that you're calling; however, you must also make sure that you're prepared in advance with your questions.

Below is a break down of how to perform each candidate reference check, including things like the questions that should be asked of each candidate during the call.

Employment verification reference

During this type of reference check, make sure to ask questions that verify specific details about the candidate's official employment with the reference.

References should be able to give confirmation that the candidate worked at the location during the time frame stated on their resume. Candidate references should also be able to confirm that the candidate was performing the job stated on their resume and during the interview process.

Some specific employment verification reference questions to ask include:

  • The candidate says their job title was XYZ. Is this the correct job title? 
  • The candidate says he/she worked with you from X to Y. Is this time frame accurate? 
  • The candidate says he/she worked also as a XYZ. Is this accurate? 
  • The candidate said they were a leader of a team of 2. Is that accurate? 

Job performance reference calls 

Unlike employment verification reference calls, performance based reference calls require the hiring manager to ask questions that will elicit answers that detail what the candidate's job was, who the candidate worked on the job with and what the job duties entailed.

It's important to make sure to ask references questions that will give confirmation on the following:

Type of work or projects the candidate completed in his/her previous role.
Cultural fit for your company based on references' experience.
Ability to adapt to new environments.
Types of tools the candidate used to complete work or projects.

Performance verification reference questions 

Typically, a company will also connect with previous employers to ask questions that will confirm how the candidate performs their job and what they're like while completing the work. It's important to make sure to asked open-ended questions that will elicit insights into their performance.

Questions to ask references during a performance verification call include:

  • Did the candidate work on XYZ project/implementation?  
  • What was the candidate's role in the project?  
  • What was the candidate's specific responsibilities in that role?  
  • How were the candidate's time management skills?  
  • Was the candidate able to effectively communicate to colleagues/managers?  
  • For this project, we will be updating/implementing [specific technology stacks]. Can you give a rating on the candidate’s skill with this tech?  
  • The role we interviewed the candidate for is XYZ. Do you think they’d be a good fit for that type of work?  
  • What advice can you give me to successfully manage the candidate?  
  • If you had the opportunity, would you re-hire this candidate? Can you give a read for your answer? 

Red flags to watch out for

When checking references, it's important to ask the right questions - but it's also important to watch out for any red flags that could may point to a reference actually being a bff rather than a former boss.

Red flags:

Employment verification:  

  • The reference doesn’t know the candidate. 
  • The Reference says the dates of employment were different than what candidate said. 
  • •  There are job title differences between candidate and reference. 

Performance-based calls: 

  • The reference doesn’t think the candidate worked on the types of projects they said. 
  • The reference says they don’t use the same tools the candidate said. 
  • The reference brings up soft skill issues (didn’t get along well with managers/colleagues). 
  • Reference mentions shortcomings in communication ability. 


Remember, reference calls are very important when confirming your candidate’s alignment with the role. When doing so, it's critical to ask the right questions and complete a detailed audit of the candidate’s experience and work history.

Think of completing a reference check like an underwriting. Before a client is insured, an insurance company must assess the risk of the individual. Doing an effective risk assessment of your candidate ensures that your investment in this candidate is well placed.

Get deeper insights into finding the right fit with our Guide to an effective recruitment process.

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