How to Interview a Reference

telephone interview

How to Interview a Reference

Today’s job market is flooded with “embellished” resume’s.  Furthermore, current human resource restrictions make validating work history information  pretty difficult.  With hiring costs on the rise, the stakes are higher than ever to get it right, but the systems in place make hiring decisions near impossible.  The answer to this dilemma could be sitting on your desk at this very moment.  That’s right, a list of references, could solve all of your hiring problems. Knowing how to interview a reference is based on good planning, and being inquisitive about the potential new hire.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “People fake references all the time.” Yes, that’s true. It’s pretty common for a friend or family member to impersonate an old boss for a five minute fluff call.  However, when done correctly, a reference interview can not only bring these imposters to light, but also validate or deflate a resume.

Here’s how to effectively conduct a reference interview…

  1. Confirm the Details

When you interview a reference, first and foremost, you’ll want to confirm the details your applicant listed on their resume.  This will confirm you are speaking with someone qualified to give a reference.  This is also where a lot of impostors slip up, as they rarely know dates and specific titles.  Some good examples of questions are:

  1. What is your title? In what capacity did you work with the applicant?
  2. When did you work with the applicant and at what company?
  3. When did they leave the company and do you know why?


  1. Verify Skill Sets

There is a difference between endorsing an employee and recommending them for a specific job.  For instance, I love my social media project manager, but I would not endorse her for a position as a marketing manager, as I only know her skill level in the arena of social media. Give the reference a brief description of the position responsibilities for which they are applying, before asking if you recommend them for the job.  Other good questions to ask, include:

  1. What was their scope of responsibilities while working with/for you?
  2. How would you describe the applicant’s work style?
  3. How would you rate the applicant’s work performance and ability to meet deadlines?
  4. Would you or did you ever recommend the applicant for a promotion?
  5. Would you consider rehiring this applicant?


  1. Character Inquiry

It’s important to know the character of the person you are hiring to make sure they are a good fit, culturally. Even with a well-qualified applicant, your turnover rate will skyrocket if you are not ensuring they are a good fit with the rest of the team and overall work culture expectations.  This might also give you some insight as to why they may have left previous companies.  Try leading with a few of these questions:

  1. Do you believe the applicant to be a good communicator?
  2. How did they respond to development and performance feedback?
  3. Did the applicant work well in team environments?
  4. How did the applicant respond to stress or work volume changes?

Finally, when making the call, be sure to have you questions ready, along with something to take notes on.  Always, introduce yourself and why you are calling.  Be sure to ask if this time is convenient, or if they would like to schedule a more convenient time to talk.  Be sure you give them a time expectation, so they can properly prepare for the interview.  Finally, be respectful of their time and try to stick to the time expectation as closely as possible.

More Information from our blog on hiring is Here!

More Information from other sources:

Entrepreneur: Doing job references

Forbes: Importance of Reference Checks

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