We solicited the advice of several leaders in recruiting to provide a guide to gathering useful information from a candidate’s referees.

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Log the candidate name, target role(s), your name, and today’s date. ‘X’ is used below as a placeholder for the candidate’s name.

Thanks for taking the time to help me better understand X's history. Is this still a good time to talk?

Overlap & Relationship

Determine how much “data” the reference is likely to have in offering their assessment.

  • When did you work with X and for how long?
  • During that time, what were your respective roles?
  • What was X responsible for?

Specific Professional Impact / Value

Triangulate aspects of the candidate’s work history (particularly the value they provided).

  • What’s the best example of valuable impact that they created while you were working with them?
  • What obstacles did they have to overcome to achieve that impact?
  • What did they/their team learn in the process?
  • Do you have a second example?
  • How many colleagues have you worked with who occupied similar roles/did similar work?
  • Where would you rank X overall in that list?

Behavior / Environment / Future Success

Learn more about what support the candidate is likely to need to be successful.

  • Thinking about culture, team structure, process preferences [etc.], what kind of environment does X thrive in?
  • How does X deal with ambiguity/conflict? Any specific examples?
  • What one thing would most compromise X’s engagement with our mission/team?
  • We’re thinking about hiring X to [describe role]. What should we be thinking about in ensuring their success?

Closing Questions

Close the reference check by asking questions about the candidate’s work ethic/personality, as well as any additional candidates the referee might suggest: 

  • How eager would you be to work with X again?
  • Is there anything else you think we should be aware of in considering X’s candidacy?
  • We’re always looking for good people. Is there anyone else we should be considering?