referencesOne of the biggest responsibilities of an employer is hiring employees. Not only do you want someone who will do the job that’s needed, but you also want someone who will get along with other employees, and most importantly, who is trustworthy. Hiring the wrong employee can end up costing the company a lot of money, not to mention aggravation and wasted time.

While some might think that the best way to judge a potential employee is by reviewing their resume and conducting an interview, checking references is equally, if not more, important. Remember, some people are really good interviewers, and some resumes are very polished – but neither can tell you how the person interacts with colleagues and bosses, if they are a team-player and whether they are trustworthy.

In fact, according to a 2012 CareerBuilder survey, 62 percent of employers said that when they contacted a reference listed on a candidate’s application, the reference didn’t have good things to say about them. And twenty-nine percent of employers said that they found a fake reference on a candidate’s application!

In short, checking references is crucial if you want to make sure that the person you are hiring lives up to what he says he is, and is the kind of person you want on your team.

When Should You Call References?

Calling the references of everyone who has submitted a resume is a waste of time. Most employers maintain efficiency by going through their pile of resumes, inviting relevant candidates for an interview, and only then calling the references of the candidates with real potential.

Not All References Are Created Equal

References who you discover to be friends or relatives of the candidate will give you pretty worthless testimony. Of course, they will say only positive things and not offer true insight into the candidate’s work ethic and accomplishments. The references you can value are those from managers, bosses, or others in positions of authority with whom the candidate worked. Colleagues can also provide useful references, but they might not have the information you really need.

Questions to Ask

Here are important questions to ask when calling employee references:

  1. What were the employee’s responsibilities?
  2. Can you describe the employee’s work performance? Did he complete his responsibilities? Did he meet deadlines?
  3. What was the employee’s attitude at work? How did that affect his work and his relationships with other employees?
  4. What are the employee’s strengths and weaknesses?
  5. How was his rapport with colleagues and higher-ups?
  6. Why did he leave the position?
  7. Is there anything else I should know about this candidate?


Armed with your arsenal of carefully-culled information, you can now feel confident about your decision going forward – whether that decision is to hire or pass over the candidate in question. Of course, checking references does not guarantee with 100% accuracy that the candidate will end up working out – but when you do it, you are certainly increasing the chances of a hiring good match for your company.