How To Do Reference Checks

I have found that, aside from getting a pool of qualified candidates, reference checking is the most important part of making a good hire.  Here’s how to do it according to Topgrading methodology.

What to ask:

  1. In what context did you work with the person?
  2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?  Please give me some examples.
  3. What were some of the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?  Please give me some examples.
  4. How would you rate their overall performance in that job (1-10).
  5. (Optional) The person mentioned that they struggled in that job with ____(e.g. hitting their gross margin targets); tell me more about that

And some do’s and don’ts:


Do Not

Get numbers (e.g. What was revenue when you started?  When you left?  How much did you budget to spend on that system implementation—and what did it end up costing?

Do not accept vague answers (e.g. sales really took off!  My boss and I had a difference of opinion.  That job just did not work out).


Talk about actual experiences in their life.

Do not ask about hypothetical situations


Listen and ask lots of follow-up questions.


Don’t talk too much.  Talk less than 20% of the time.  Don’t “lead the witness.”


Get Trevor's Weekly Tips Straight To Your Inbox

    Related posts

    Differences between Millennials and Gen Z in the Workplace

    Differences between Millennials and Gen Z in the Workplace Key Takeaways   Millennials and Gen Z prefer to be in…

    When Billy has a problem with Susie AND with Bobby AND with Janie...

    This week I was approached by a guy who I hadn’t seen in years.   He immediately cornered me and told…

    Are You A Good Person?

    Today I want to share some basic wisdom.  Wisdom about living life at work and at home. Our default is…

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Ready to get started?

    Learn how to get people right with our practical curriculum taught by instructors with real-world experience.

    PLI-Cert_Leadership Fundamentals_
    Scroll to Top