After sifting through countless resumes and conducting dozens of interviews you’ve finally found the candidate that you think is just right for your position. The only thing left is to go through the formality of checking their references. Wait a minute. There is a real danger in approaching reference checks as formalities. You have a lot of experience as a hiring manager, and you would likely make a good hire 90% of the time without checking references. Reference checking is a tool to help you weed out the other 10%. Here is a five-part plan I use when checking references.


If you are at the reference checking stage, chances are that the candidate has been interviewed by multiple people in your organization. Debrief everyone who has interviewed the candidate and get their input on questions you will ask of references. Focus on any red flags that were perceived by team members. Then craft your questions to shed light on these.

Be Descriptive

When you are interviewing for a reference, it is important that you describe your open position in detail. When the former employer has a good understanding of the responsibilities, they can more thoroughly give you meaningful feedback.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Just like when interviewing a candidate, you should focus on asking open-ended questions of references. It’s also a good idea to use the candidate’s own words when formulating these questions. Restate results or achievements they provided on their resume or in interviews. For example, “Jane mentioned that she was on a development team that produced your most profitable application. Tell me about Jane’s role on the team.”

Factual References

Many companies will only provide factual references for former employees. For example, they may only give you the date of hire, date of termination and last position held. This is becoming more common as former employers have been sued for giving negative reviews. If you encounter this there are two action steps you should take. First check the facts the company gave you with what the candidate provided. Then move on to the next reference.

Do It Yourself

Finally, checking a candidate’s references is something you want to perform yourself. This isn’t a task to pass off to an aid. You have much more knowledge of the position than a subordinate will. This means that you are more equipped to come up with probing follow up questions on the fly.

Checking references can be a tedious and time-consuming job, but it is an important one. Too important to be viewed as a formality.

Danielle Foppe is a Recruitment Manager at Business Centric Technology. If you are interested in learning more about how to get the best IT talent in the Dallas metroplex, contact Danielle specializes in recruiting IT talent in Dallas, Ft. Worth and North Texas. If you are looking for a rewarding career contact us today.