Employee reference checklist: Everything you need to know

Employee reference checklist: Everything you need to know
Last Updated: February 28, 2023

What an Employee reference checklist?

An employee reference checklist is a form used when verifying references for a possible recruit. It helps you prescreen potential employees by verifying the information they provide on applications and in interviews. This can also be done through a background verification agency. Depending on the employer, the reference checklist is sent at different stages of the recruitment process. Some employers prefer sending it at the beginning of the process. The common practice is to send the reference checklist once the interviews have been concluded. An employee reference checklist is a form that includes questions meant to solicit information about a candidate's track record. The purpose of the reference checklist is to help an employer better understand a potential candidate before they engage them. 



Sample Employee Reference Checklist Questions

When structuring reference check questions, it is important to ensure that you ask focused questions with a more restricted responses scope. Such questions will lead to generalized answers that will not help make a fair assessment of the candidate. It is therefore important to ask focused questions as they help give details about the candidate. Below are some focused reference check questions that employers can include in their checklist;

  1. Can you confirm the employment, title, remuneration, and duties of the job applicant?
  2. Why did they quit that position?
  3. How do you know the applicant for the job?
  4. What qualifies the applicant as a suitable fit for the position?
  5. Would you rehire this job applicant if you had the chance? Why?
  6. Did the applicant get along well with the management and other employees?
  7. How did the candidate deal with a disagreement? How about pressure? Stress?
  8. What suggestions do you have for how I should handle the job candidate?
  9. What else must I learn about the job applicant that I haven't already inquired about?


Types of questions to avoid in an Employee Reference Checklist 

Below are certain questions to avoid in a reference checklist as they lead to bias. All employers must strive to be equal opportunity employers. Certain things must not impact their judgement of a candidate, including the following items.

  1. Age
  2. Family life
  3. Religious affiliation
  4. Disability


The pros and cons of the Employee Reference checklist 

Below is a comprehensive list of advantages and disadvantages of an employee reference checklist.


  1. Whilst employee reference checklists are intended to give a clearer picture of the candidate, they may distort the true picture of a candidate.
  2. Reference checks can eliminate any real chance of finding \"red flags,\" as candidates only provide references who will speak highly of them.
  3. Reference checks are rarely read by most employers and hiring managers, and many do not even go through such a process.
  4. This serves as a huge drawback due to confirmation bias.
  5. Many companies do not allow HR or supervisors to respond to employee reference check questions.
  6. It may seem like a waste of time to call references who will only be positive and offer no further information. Still, a well-prepared candidate will never provide you with terrible recommendations.
  7. Referees are fallible. You can receive inaccurate information that disqualifies a candidate who would have made a terrific hire. Or you can receive a falsely positive recommendation for someone.
  8. A counteroffer from the present employer may become more likely if they are involved in the process.
  9. Employers must always follow legal requirements when contacting references. Employers must also be consistent in their reference check procedures to avoid discrimination accusations. Although it adds to the intricacy of the situation, this isn't a problem in and of itself.



  1. Hearing about the application from a former co-worker can be useful to the company in understanding them better. In addition to the facts discovered during the interview process, this could offer helpful information.
  2. It can be a way to get more insight into what it may be like to work with this individual.
  3. If there is an accusation of negligent hiring, it offers one line of defense. There is a case to be made that you couldn't have known about the issue if you performed your full diligence, including reference checks, and didn't find a problem.
  4. They help an employer have a different perspective of the candidate, separate from the one they paint for themselves.
  5. Reference checklists allow employers to learn more about a candidate's strengths and limitations and devise ways to support them best once they are on the job.



Checking employee references is an essential step in the hiring process. To ensure that you evaluate candidates fairly, speak with at least two references for each application and ask identical questions. Inform the candidates, but don't be hesitant to chat with backdoor references; they'll frequently give you an objective perspective.


Mutsawashe Musvaire is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.

Phone: +263 242 481946-48/481950 Email: mutsawashe@ipcconsultants.com

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/mutsawashe-musvaire

Mutsawashe Musvaire

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