How to Conduct Background Checks on Potential Employees

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Is the selection process nearing its end, and you’re certain you have a good group of applicants to pick from, but you’d want to learn more about their prior performance?

References need to be checked.

When doing reference checks, it is common for the interviewer to inquire about a candidate’s work history and talk to previous employers.

Before you begin checking references, there are a few things you need to know:

  • What specific data must you gather?
  • Do you have to depend on printed references?
  • When doing a reference check, what are the ideal questions to ask?
  • Doing a reference check at the right moment is crucial.
  • If someone has anything bad to say about a candidate, what should you do about it?

When it comes to a reference check, let’s go down to the essentials.

Why do people do reference checks?

As part of the recruiting process, a prospective employer will inquire about a candidate’s previous employers and colleagues to discover more about the candidate’s qualifications, work history, and more.

Verify the applicant’s employment dates, job titles, and duties while on the job. At the very least, You may learn a lot about a candidate’s prior work experience, education, and abilities by doing a thorough reference check.

Keeping in mind that a reference check is not the same as a background check is important. Referees look at a candidate’s past achievements and accomplishments and their education and training, while a background check validates their employment history and even criminal record.

According to SHRM, 92 percent of companies use background checks as part of their hiring process; this is a significant number.

In order to get a reference, what’s the purpose of doing so?

Mis-hiring may cost you as much as double the employee’s yearly compensation, according to Gallup’s research findings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US economy loses more than $1 trillion a year due to employee mis-hires.

Recommendation checks may be critical in determining if the applicant is a good fit for a company’s needs.

You may discover a lot about your applicants by doing a reference check. You’ll need to make sure:

  • Whether or not they had a successful work history
  • What a high level of productivity and efficiency
  • As to whether or not they had a pleasant personality
  • Whether or not they have the correct culture is a factor that may help you succeed in your position.

Along the way, you’ll get a sense of how well they’ve worked together in the past, both as individuals and as a team.

Having references from former coworkers, supervisors, and peers—or, to put it another way, the individuals with whom the candidate worked every day—is one of the most valuable aspects of doing reference checks. The best way to assess a candidate’s abilities is to have them interview with you.

Do’s, don’ts, and red flags in reference checks.

When doing reference checks, HR personnel should adhere to guidelines known as the “does and don’ts.”

If you’re interviewing a former colleague or boss of your applicant, here are some things to keep in mind.


When doing a background check, keep these things in mind:

Make a point of addressing just a few significant concerns. To avoid exhausting the time and resources of everyone involved, including the person you’re speaking with, it’s best to limit your inquiries to the most critical matters. Aim for what matters most by gathering input from every interviewer you speak with.

Ask about the candidate’s previous work experience and accomplishments. Whether you’re interviewing a candidate’s ex-manager or ex-colleague, dig into the nitty-gritty specifics of how well they performed by asking specific questions about their work history.

Without interrupting or investigating, take in what they are saying. You should never ask more than one question at a time. If you follow up with a follow-up question immediately, you may miss out on some of the most significant information the individual has to say.

Make use of a variety of resources while gathering your data. Depending on your company’s HR regulations, you may only be able to get minimal information (educational background, degree, job title). Increase your understanding of the applicant by finding extra sources of information such as professional networks, previous employers, and LinkedIn.


When talking to former colleagues and former employers:

Asking yes-or-no questions is a bad idea. To get as much information as possible, ask open-ended inquiries.

Be aware of your preconceived notions. Be aware of your prejudices, which may influence your perception of the responses you hear, by using neutral language in your questions.

Don’t overinterpret someone’s body language or tone of speech. You may misread the circumstances in multicultural organizations and develop an erroneous impression about your applicant.

Inconsistencies and bad reviews should not be grounds for disqualification. It’s not uncommon for a former employee to have a bad impression of them. If you can, give your application the benefit of the doubt and interview them further.

Red flags

Be on the lookout for red flags while examining references. If you see any red flags, you should be wary of the applicant’s suitability for your organization.

Reactions that are just too negative. Even though you may get unfavorable criticism, you should investigate it thoroughly. Nevertheless, suppose most references have negative things to say about your prospect. In that case, it’s generally a strong clue that the candidate is not the greatest match for your firm.

Information that isn’t constant. Verify that the information provided by the applicant corresponds to the records maintained by their previous employer. Please double-check whether there are any discrepancies or contradictions in the information. Before passing judgment on the scenario, talk to the applicant about any discrepancies you find.

Negative feedback. When you only hear favorable recommendations regarding a prospect, be aware that you may not be getting the whole story. To get a complete picture of the person you wish to recruit, try to get references from their prior employers.

What are the most important questions to ask when doing a background check?

You should ask open-ended questions but make them as explicit as possible while doing a reference check. Answers like “They’re great!” will not assist you to make recruiting judgments if your inquiries are imprecise or general.

When checking references, here are some questions you might ask. Adapt them to the position you’re trying to fill, and take notes while you’re on the phone.

  • Ask why the candidate resigned?
  • I’d want to know more about the connection you had with them. What are their interactions with coworkers and superiors like?
  • Is it preferable for them to work as a team or independently?
  • Is there anything you can tell me about the candidate’s duties at work?
  • To what degree was the applicant effective in their position? Are they capable of becoming a 10?
  • What do you consider to be their greatest achievements?
  • We’re looking for someone who can do (two or three key responsibilities). Please tell us how you feel about each of them. Why?
  • What are the candidate’s most important attributes?
  • Is there anything they’re particularly vulnerable to?
  • Can you tell me when the applicant had to deal with a difficult circumstance at work? How did they handle this?
  • Tell me about a time when the applicant was involved in a dispute with another employee. Do you know how they dealt with the situation?
  • The best way to lead and manage this prospect is to… Why?
  • Is there anything more I should know about them that I haven’t already?
  • Can you provide an example of an area where they lack knowledge or expertise?
  • When it comes to the onboarding process, is there anything specific they should focus on?
  • When the applicant receives unfavorable feedback, please describe it. What was their reaction?
  • Who else should I talk to about this?

Recommendations for making the most of your reference checks

Even though reference checks are quite routine, hiring managers may rush through them or fail to consider essential factors.