Reference Checks

Eric Friedman
3 min readFeb 22, 2019

An essential part of the hiring process for any company are reference checks. They are a great way to get some context on a potential employee and hear from people they have worked for, with, and around over an extended period of time. The typical process is to ask for 3 references that can speak on someones behalf they they supply that they have worked directly with. I allow for framing these references outside of working directly for them if they have a professional relationship; advising, invested in, or other direct working flow.

Another group to collect information from are backchannel references — folks you can navigate to on your own that are not supplied — to understand the candidate. I believe that this is helpful, and having had the same done on myself think it’s a good part of the process.

So what are some good questions to ask a reference? Below are my set of go-to questions and some background on each and why I often come back to this list.

  1. How does this person receive feedback?
    Given that you will be managing them, giving and getting feedback is an important part of the process. This can get to the root of what you are looking for in the first place and unearth how they like to go through the process during a 1:1 or more formally. Everyone wants feedback, but rarely does negative feedback go over easily for either party. This is a great way to figure out the best method early.
  2. One thing from their review that you can share?
    This is kind of a great one because technically it is “on the record” and something the person has already gone through. It hopefully is also something that jogs their memory and lets them talk freely about something good or bad that they have discussed with the person already.
  3. whats one thing this person could do better?
    This is a common question but gets right to the root of what I am typically after — how can I help this person succeed? This isn’t a mission to discover something negative, but rather a way to explore how you can be a great manager.
  4. What’s next after next?
    This is one of my favorite questions for candidates in an interview and now part of my arsenal for reference calls. The reason for this is that most folks are after a broader goal, and I like to know if they have shared it with a past manager. It shows the type of manager they were (good or bad) and alignment with the person.

I recently completed a series of reference calls for someone (they got the job!) and shared my questions they should be asking me with the future manager, and to my surprise they appreciated them very much. Whenever that sort of thing happens its a great prompt to get them written down and have as a reference to share with others, and of course learn what else I should add to my list.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Tags: Reference Checks

Originally published at on February 22, 2019.