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How to Conduct Reference Checks

Learn about reference checks, which allow the supervisor to verify the information already provided by the candidate, and to ask about performance and accomplishments.

1. Prepare carefully before you conduct a reference check.

  • Familiarize yourself thoroughly with the information the candidate has already provided, including the application, resume, and interview responses. Identify areas that require elaboration or verification.
  • Set up a telephone appointment with one or more references provided by the candidate.
  • If requested, send a written consent from the candidate and the job description in advance of your telephone call.
  • Write down your questions before you call, highlighting the information you want verified or expanded upon.

Note: Make your reference checks before the final selection is made.

2. Set up an environment that encourages the reference to respond willingly, cooperatively, and honestly.

Begin your conversation on common ground by referring to information that has already been provided by the candidate. For example:

  • "John Doe has asked us to speak with you regarding information he has already shared with us during the interview process."
  • "I'm calling to verify information provided by Mary Roe."

3. Describe the position.

  • Describe the responsibilities, duties, and working environment of the position for which the candidate has applied.
  • After describing the position, ask, "Given our requirements, what is your assessment of the candidate's qualifications for the job?"

4. In addition to your prepared questions, ask follow-up questions.

  • If you get a general response ("She's great!"), follow up with a specific question ("What did she do to merit that compliment? or "Why did she leave?" or "How have things changed since she left?")
  • If the reference provider declines to answer a question, ask if someone else might be able to share information about the topic.
  • Ask questions that are specifically job-related. There are legal ramifications if you ask illegal/ inappropriate questions that may have to do with race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, medical condition, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or status as a covered veteran.
Please note: To review current or former employee's last performance appraisal, the supervisor must request it from their Talent Advisor.
Contact your Talent Advisor in the Staff Human Resource dept for more info.
Notice: The information on this page summarizes provisions of university policies and/or collective bargaining agreements. Refer to the Personnel Policies for Staff Members (PPSM) and local implementing procedures or applicable collective bargaining agreement for full text of referenced information.