Common reference check questions your employers might ask

Common reference check questions your employers might ask
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 22 March, 2024

The country's job market looks bright in 2024, according to Secretary of Finance Benjamin Diokno's year-end assessment. He reports that the underemployment and unemployment rates are low and steady. As the economy continues to recover, industries are expanding and creating more jobs. 

If you're looking for a job, you can boost your chances of landing the position you want through thorough preparation. This includes creating a strong resume and practicing for job interviews. Knowing common reference check questions is also a smart move. Your potential employer's hiring team may contact the people you listed as references to get a complete picture of your work and character. This helps them determine your suitability for the position.  

This guide can help you prepare your references to answer questions from your potential employer. Here's what we'll cover:

What is a reference check?

When performing a reference check, a potential employer contacts the people you included in your list of references. They may ask about your work, personality, and performance. You can think of it as getting a second opinion from individuals who can vouch for your abilities and character.

References can play a key role in helping companies decide whether to hire you, so choose your references wisely. Make sure they can give a positive and accurate view of your character and abilities. 

Why employers ask for reference checks

An employer may ask for a reference check for several reasons:

Verifying information

A potential employer may want to verify the information you provided in your job application, such as your work history and skills. They may do this to ensure that you have represented yourself honestly. For example, if you stated in your resume that you consistently exceeded the sales quota in your previous job, the employer may contact your reference to confirm this achievement.

Looking at work ethics

By speaking with your references, an employer can gain insight into your work ethic, reliability, and attitude toward work. They may want to know if you're a good fit for their company culture and can perform well in the role. They might also ask your reference how you handle tight deadlines or how well you collaborate with colleagues. 

Assessing behavior

An employer can use reference checks to assess your behavior in previous roles. They may ask about your communication and listening skills, for example. They might also ask about your problem-solving abilities and how you handle challenges at work. Hiring managers sometimes ask a reference to describe your demeanor and conduct in the workplace.

Predicting future performance

Many companies believe that past performance can predict future performance. By talking to your references, they hope to gain insight into your full potential and how you might perform in the role they're considering you for. For example, if they learn you consistently met and exceeded targets in your last job, it can indicate that you would have the same level of success in a similar position with their company.

When do hiring managers ask for reference checks?

The timing for checking references varies across companies. Regardless of when an employer asks for your list of references, it's best to prepare your references before you submit your application. There are some common stages of the hiring process when a potential employer may use one or more references in your list.

After the initial interview 

Man in suit and woman in a white blouse interviewing a candidate

The employer may ask to speak with references to gather more information about your qualifications and fit for the role. They may want to delve deeper into specific aspects of your work history, such as your leadership skills or problem-solving abilities. Checking references at this stage allows them to confirm the impression they formed during the interview.

During the final stages of the hiring process

After narrowing down the pool of applicants, the employer may perform a reference check before the final interview. This allows them to verify that your qualifications and experience align with what you presented during the application and interview process. Speaking with your references helps them confirm that you're the right person for the job.

As part of a background check

Companies may perform background checks on potential employees before they make a decision. You may need to get a clearance certificate from the National Bureau of Investigation and agree to a credit check. The employer may also get in touch with your references to verify your education and work history.

Before extending a job offer

The employer may want to take additional steps to ensure that they're making the right decision. These may include checking with your references to expand on any details they may have missed during the interview. That's why it's important to choose the right people to help you get the job.

Employment reference check questions

Companies design reference check questions to understand their applicants better. These questions cover many parts of the job seeker's work history, performance, behavior, and skills. Answers to these questions provide valuable insights that can affect a company's decision to hire a new employee. Here are some examples of a reference check questions template for your references:

Introductory reference check questions

These questions set the tone for the discussion and help the employer gather basic information about you and the reference. The employer may inquire about your role in your previous company and ask the reference for their impression of you and your performance. Here are some examples:

  • What is your relationship with [your name]? How long have you known them?
  • What is your professional background?
  • Please describe the nature of [your name]'s role while working with you.
  • What do you think are their strengths and weaknesses?

Performance-related reference check questions

Employers want to understand your performance in previous roles. These questions focus on your accomplishments, work ethic, and ability to meet job expectations. Your reference's responses can give them an idea of how you can contribute to the organization.

Achievements and challenges

These questions revolve around your responsibilities and how well you worked in previous positions. Here are examples:

  • What were [your name]'s main responsibilities and duties in your organization?
  • What were their major accomplishments during their time at your organization?
  • How did [your name] handle challenging situations? Can you share an example?

Skills and competencies

These questions look at your specific skills and competencies relevant to the job you're applying for. The employer may want to know about your technical abilities, level of proficiency in specific software programs, or expertise in a particular industry. They might ask your reference to provide examples of how you demonstrated these skills in previous roles. Here are some examples:

  • What are [your name]'s strengths?
  • What technical skills did they develop while working in your organization?
  • Based on your observations, how would you rate [your name]'s [specific skill or competency]?
  • In which area is [your name] most proficient? Please give an example.

Culture fit

Companies may prefer job seekers who are likely to fit their work culture. The following questions can help them assess this:

  • What is [your name]'s management style?
  • How do they perform when working with a team?
  • How does [your name] respond under pressure?

Reference check questions for your previous manager

The questions that your former supervisor or manager may encounter in a reference check are likely to focus on your performance in the workplace. Some questions may also touch on specific skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and decision-making. Here are some examples:

Team collaboration

  • How did [your name] contribute to team projects and collaborations?
  • Can you share an example of a successful team project they were a part of?
  • Did they ever mediate a conflict between team members? What did they do?

Decision-making abilities

  • How did [your name] approach decision-making in challenging situations?
  • Can you provide an instance where they demonstrated strong decision-making skills?

Rehiring potential

  • If the opportunity arose, would you rehire [your name]?
  • What do you think were their biggest contributions to your team and the organization?

Openness to feedback

  • How did [your name] respond to feedback and constructive criticism?
  • Are there areas where they can improve?

Management style

  • Can you describe [your name]'s leadership style and how they motivated their team?
  • Can you recall a time they provided feedback to team members? How did they do?
Muslim woman wearing a red hijab on the phone

Reference check questions to ask coworkers

Questions for your past coworkers may revolve around your communication and collaboration skills. Additional questions may be about your attitude, approach to work, and personality. Here are a few examples:

Team dynamics

  • How did [your name] contribute to team morale and dynamics?
  • Can you share examples of how your former colleague supported team members in their roles?
  • What do you think was their impact on company culture? How did their behavior affect the workplace environment?

Communication skills

  • How effectively did [your name] communicate with team members and other departments?
  • Can you provide instances where they demonstrated strong communication skills in the workplace?
  • How did they resolve conflict within the team?

How employers conduct reference checks

The reference check process involves a few steps before the employer gets in touch with your references. First, they determine how many references they may need for the position you're applying for. After your initial interview, they may require you to submit your list of personal references and ask for your permission to contact your references. When you're at this stage, it's best to let your references know so that they can prepare.

Compliance with the Data Privacy Act of 2012

Employers must comply with Republic Act 10173, or the Data Privacy Act of 2012, when conducting their background checks. They will usually ask for your permission through a written consent form before collecting and processing your data and personal information.

Sensitive personal information is largely off-limits unless you give your consent. This includes your age, ethnicity, marital status, and medical history. It also covers your criminal records and political, philosophical, and religious affiliations.

Familiarize yourself with your rights under the law, and make sure to read through the consent form before signing.

Methods of conducting reference checks

Employers use different ways to check references. They may use the following methods to get in touch with them.

Phone calls

This method allows direct conversation between the hiring manager and the reference. Employers can obtain real-time responses to queries and ask follow-up questions for clarification.

Email correspondence

Some employers opt to conduct reference checks via email. They send reference check questions to the references and request written responses. While this method may lack the immediacy of a phone call, it provides a record of the feedback they receive.

Online reference check platforms

There are online platforms that companies can use to facilitate reference checks. They can invite your references to give feedback through these platforms. References can rate you on specific criteria and provide detailed comments.

In-person interviews

In some cases, an employer may prefer to conduct reference checks in person. This method makes for a more personal interaction with the reference. It's an effective way to obtain more substantial information about your qualifications and previous performance.

Background verification services

Some companies use background verification services to conduct thorough reference checks. These services verify the information you provided. They act on behalf of the company when contacting your references.

Each method of conducting reference checks has advantages and considerations. Knowing these methods lets you anticipate how companies may obtain information about you. This can also help your references prepare for the checking process.

How to prepare for a reference check

Good personal references can help employers understand your skills, qualifications, and suitability for the role. They might ask your former employers, direct supervisors, teachers, or coworkers for feedback about you. A positive outcome can strengthen your chances. Here are several tips for preparing for this part of your application:

Get your references ready ahead of time

Some employers like to talk to your references before inviting you to a job interview. Their decision to continue with your interview may depend on what your references say. Consider who you can ask for a reference before applying for a job. Good references are people who know you well and can speak positively about you.

Ask permission before listing a reference

Make sure you ask them before you include someone in your reference list, and wait for an affirmative answer. This helps ensure that the people you list have the time to take calls or receive messages from your potential employer. Make sure you include their names and phone numbers. Remember to give your people notice of your upcoming interviews. This can help them prepare by choosing the right things to say about you.

Pay attention to the job application

Some employers might want you to provide your reference list in your resume. Make sure to include it if they ask for this information in the job posting. If they don't ask for references initially, wait until they ask you for a list.

Help your references get ready

It's a good idea to share the details about the position you're applying for with the people in your reference list. This will help them prepare for specific reference check questions and answers. 

Man in a blue suit meeting with a woman with a laptop


Reference checks are common in the hiring process. They offer insights into your background, skills, and character. Employers use them to make informed decisions and reduce the risk of recruiting a bad hire.

It's a good idea to prepare for this step to increase your chances of employment. Select your references wisely and let them know when you apply for a job. You can also share reference questions with them so they have an idea of what to expect. 


Here are answers to common questions about this topic:

  1. What questions do employers ask in a reference check?
    Employers may ask various questions about your educational background, work history, skills, and character. It's common for them to inquire about your job performance in previous roles. They may also ask for feedback from some of your references about your ability to work with a team and how you interact with others in the workplace.
  2. What is a reference check question?
    This is a question that a potential employer asks during the process of evaluating your suitability for a position. It's usually specific to the job and the skills and qualifications necessary for the role. The purpose of a reference check is to confirm the information you provided. It's also an effective way to get a more complete picture of your performance and other relevant areas that may affect your fit within the organization.
  3. What can references say in a reference check?
    References might provide feedback on your work performance, skills, attitude, and behavior. They could also share your achievements and contributions to the organizations where you worked. They may provide examples that demonstrate your skills and competencies.
  4. What can hiring managers not ask on a reference check?
    Hiring managers must follow data privacy laws when conducting reference checks. Asking about race, gender, political, or religious affiliation is off-limits. They shouldn't inquire about your sexual orientation, disability, medical history, or financial status. The questions must be relevant to the position you're applying for.

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