8 Surprise-Attack Reference Questions to Amp Up Your Hiring Intelligence


Standard reference check questions have become so rote that I can rattle them off half-asleep. How long did the candidate work with you? What were the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? Was he a team player?*

The clichés repeat, ad nauseam. Doubtless, some questions are essential. You can’t judge an employee’s performance without knowing what they did for former companies. However, unexpected questions can produce surprising insights, helping you amp up your hiring intelligence.

Try these 8 questions and see what kinds of answers you get:

(First four questions inspired by JayScott.com)

1. Were you asked to be a reference by (candidate name)?

2. What did he learn during his time with your company?

3. If you could give him a single career suggestion, what would it be?

4. What circumstances frustrate him the most?

5. How well does he manage pressure, stress, or crises?

6. (If reference managed the client) How did the candidate respond to your management style?

7. Would you rehire him?

8. Can you refer me to someone he didn’t get along with?

Can you think of any other surprising—but sane—reference check questions?

*This terminology needs to be chucked out of the lexicon. Perhaps “Does he bite?” is a more apt question.

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.