I’m in the process of hiring employees. What should I do about checking references for a new member of staff?

I’m in the process of hiring employees. What should I do about checking references for a new member of staff?


Before you make an offer of employment, it is absolutely vital to undertake some reference checking.


Under the Privacy Act, you need to be careful how you manage any sensitive information and always seek the candidate’s approval before contacting their nominated referees.


Reference checks are often conducted with senior management who can be difficult to reach. Ask the candidate to notify their referees in advance that you will be calling.


Agencies usually conduct three checks per candidate from different companies and preferably with someone they directly reported to.

Make sure you have a generic reference check template that can be adapted to different positions.


The key behavioural questions will remain the same. However, the technical questions will need to be adjusted according to the role.


Use a rating system of either 1-5 or excellent, very good, good, fair and needs improvement. Always ask the referee to elaborate if you don’t feel satisfied.


Have the candidates resume in front of you so that you can verify the employment dates, duties and title of position.


When talking to referees, you need to:

  • Ask the referee if they have the time to speak with you and check their title in the company and working relationship with the candidate.  
  • Describe the role you are intending to offer to the candidate and ask for their comments in regards to suitability. 
  • Depending on the position, the behavioural areas to focus on include -interaction and communication skills, team participation, adaptability, honesty and assertiveness or aggressive behaviour. 
  • Other questions include – attention to detail, ability to cope under pressure and stress and punctuality. With a sales position you would focus on their ability to meet or exceed sales targets. 
  • Design your technical questions according to the level of proficiency and qualifications required. 

Here are three sample questions:

  1. “At the interview, (candidate’s name) told me that they were highly competent in (specific area). Based on your knowledge, would you agree with this and do you have any examples?”
  2. “This position requires (candidate) to handle large amounts of cash, do you perceive this would present any problems?”
  3. “Why did the (candidate) leave the company and would they re-employ the (candidate) again, if not, why not?”

Focus more on the behavioural or ‘soft’ skills than the technical skills, as hard skills can always be upskilled.


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