Check References

After you interview the highest-qualified applicants, you will have a lot to think about as you decide whom to hire. One important thing that will help you make your decision is the process of checking references.

How to Request References

You should encourage job candidates to provide you at least three references who can provide meaningful, job-related data. Chances are you made this request when posting the job opening, but once you have narrowed down the applicant pool and conducted interviews, you may want to suggest applicants provide former employers with a release to facilitate the information sharing.

How to Check References

You should check references after the interview process so that you will be able to objectively evaluate the applicant's qualifications and information presented during the interview. The purpose of checking references is to verify the individual's work and performance history in order to select the best-qualified applicant for the job. A failure to check references can result in poor hiring choices that are costly in time, energy, and money.

Note: Human Resources can assist with reference checks. The hiring department can submit a Background Check Request for Education and Employment Verification along with the Background Check Request. Education and Employment Verification includes checking references and employment dates at up to three previous employers (within the past 7 years) and verifying the highest degree(s) earned. The cost of verifying education and employment information is $35, plus any fees charged by the institutions contacted, and will be billed to the same incidental account that was used for the background check.

Be sure to do the following as you check references:

Be Consistent

  • Contact at least two previous employers for each finalist
  • Always check references before making a job offer
  • If references were checked for some applicants, do not hire another applicant without checking their references
  • Ask the same questions in each reference check


  • Develop a set of behavior-based reference-check questions from the interview questions used for each applicant interviewed
  • Determine how you are going to weigh information in advance, and weigh information in the same manner for all applicants—what disqualifies one should be the basis for disqualifying any other
  • You should never allow the individual to give you "confidential" or "off-the-record" information, so prepare for the possibility of having to stop references from disclosing this kind of information

Conduct the Reference Check

  • State the purpose of the call
  • Briefly describe the position for which the applicant has applied
  • Confirm the relationship between the person giving the reference and the applicant
  • Verify basic data such as job title, functions, salary and dates of employment
  • Ask job-related questions about the applicant's knowledge, skills and abilities as they relate to the vacant position
  • Ask questions that are designed to bring out observations of the applicant's work behaviors
  • Document the questions and answers in writing

Evaluate Information

  • Consider the source and remember that information is limited by the perception of the person giving it
  • If negative information is received about an applicant, weigh it with information from other references before making a hiring decision