What Is a Reference Check?

Reference Checks Explained

Smiling woman talks on the phone and looks at paperwork
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In a reference check, employers confirm a job applicant's references, which are professional contacts who can attest to the applicant's qualifications, and ask them about the candidate. By using a form and standard questions, employers are able to collect the same information for every candidate whose references they check. 

Learn more about reference checks and review a sample reference check form to get an idea of what your previous employers may be asked when they are called.

What Is a Reference Check?

A reference check is a tool used in the hiring process to verify references for each job candidate.

References are a significant part of the job application process. When you apply for a job, you may be asked to provide a list of professional references—former managers, coworkers, or employers—with your application.

Checking references is a way for employers to fact-check by getting information from someone other than the job candidate. Checking references also allows employers to get a sense of the candidate's work style, how they interact with others, and how they would fit with the company culture.

Checking references is often the last step an employer takes before extending a job offer. To make the process more consistent, employers may use a reference check form to guide them.

This sample reference check form would be for a check conducted over the phone, filled out by someone from the company you are applying to.

Sample Reference Check Form

Applicant Name:

Date:

Position Applied for:

Reference Checked by:

Employer:

Contact Person:

Contact Phone:

Was the applicant an employee of your company?

Yes [ ]

No [ ]

What were the applicant's dates of employment?

Start Date:

End Date:

What was the applicant's salary?

Starting Salary:

Ending Salary:

Why did the applicant leave?

What were the applicant's position and responsibilities?

What were the applicant's job responsibilities?

How would you rate the applicant's performance?

Did the applicant have any performance issues?

Did the applicant have any attendance issues?

What are the applicant's strengths?

What are the applicant's weaknesses?

Did the applicant get along well with management and co-workers?

Was the applicant promoted while with your company?

Can you describe this person's experience working as a member of a team?

How would you describe the applicant's interpersonal skills?

Did the applicant have any attendance issues?

If I describe the position we are hiring for, could you state whether the applicant would be a good fit?

Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like to share with me?

Would you rehire this person?

Yes [ ]

No [ ]

How Reference Checks Work

Employers who are hiring for a position use reference checks to learn more about each candidate's work history, background, and qualifications.

Employers can use references to help decide between two promising candidates. A glowing reference can give one candidate an edge; a poor reference can make an employer opt against a candidate. A reference may reveal that a candidate has not been honest on their resume or in their interview. On the other hand, a poor reference may only reveal that a previous employer does not think highly of a candidate. 

Even if a reference about a candidate isn't negative, the conversation might reveal aspects of the candidate's work style that make them a poor fit for the job under consideration.

As long as it is factual and accurate, employers can share a variety of information about former employees. However, state laws vary in what they permit former employers to reveal, so check with your state's labor department for specifics. If you are concerned about what an employer will say about you if called, you can call them to see what they will disclose, or use a reference checking service. 

Request references only from colleagues and managers who will speak well of you. Always ask references beforehand if they are comfortable serving as a reference.

Keep in mind that not all companies choose to provide references. Some may only confirm that an employee worked there and the dates of employment.

Types of Reference Checks

References may be checked in writing, in which case the form is mailed to the candidate's previous employer to be filled out. Other times, references may be checked over the phone and the form filled out by the prospective employer during the phone call.

Key Takeaways

  • Reference checks are a way for prospective employers to find out more information about a job candidate from people who know them and have worked with them.
  • To conduct a reference check, an employer may use a form with standard questions. This allows them to ensure they collect the same information from each candidate.
  • Reference checks are an important part of the hiring process and usually come just before the job offer is made.

Article Sources

  1. SHRM.org. "Conducting Background Investigations and Reference Checks." Accessed July 20, 2020.