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Queen's University

Conducting Reference Checks

Download Telephone Reference Form (45 KB)...

Hiring Tip
Base reference-checking questions on the job-related criteria.

Information received through contacting the candidate's referees regarding past work-related experiences and qualifications, in combination with the information gathered during the interview, will be invaluable in making a good hiring decision. Appropriate references are normally work-related and include, but may not be limited to, current and/or previous supervisors.

The purpose of the reference-check is to verify the candidate's qualifications as they relate to the requirements of the vacant position. The reference-check interview resembles the employment interview in that the questions asked are based on pre-determined selection criteria taken from the Position Summary. Following a specific format and asking previously determined interview questions will help to ensure that the reference check covers all the important areas. See the Telephone Reference Form above for an example of a suggested format and questions.

Reference Checking Tips

  • Always obtain permission from applicants to contact employers for references.

  • Reference checks should be conducted by someone who was present at the interview (i.e., the position supervisor).

  • References should be checked after completion of the interview process; they should address job-related requirements; any information that is not job-related should be disregarded.

  • Conduct all reference checks in a uniform and consistent manner.

  • Check with a minimum of two previous employers/supervisors. Contacting more than one referee will help to eliminate the possibility of either positive or negative bias. It will tend to provide a better balanced picture of the candidate’s work patterns and habits.

  • If an applicant is ultimately rejected because of an unfavourable reference, prepare documentation to support the job-related reason.

  • If information resulting from a reference check contradicts impressions or information obtained during the interview, give the individual an opportunity to refute or explain any information resulting from the reference check, particularly if the candidate has made it to the final stage of the competition.

  • If a candidate asks that the current employer not be contacted for references, advise that any job offer will be contingent upon a completion of a reference check with the current employer.

General Notes and Guidelines

  • Plan your call ahead of time. The sequence may not develop exactly as planned; be flexible.

  • Ask open-ended questions where responses require explanation rather than yes or no answers.

  • Let the referee talk freely.

  • Take notes. Probe where more information would be useful.

  • Assure referee that your conversation is strictly confidential. If you sense hesitation, emphasize that you would really appreciate his/her comments.

Queen's Human Resources
Fleming Hall, Stewart-Pollock Wing
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6.
T: 613.533.2070 | F: 613.533.6196