Five Reference Check Questions to Ask

When you need to hire someone for your small business, you have to be sure you’re getting a person of integrity, honesty, and reliability.

Because this person may play a key role in your company’s success, after the interviews are done (or while they’re going on), it’s critical to ask the right questions when checking business and personal references.

Here are five questions that have been helpful to me as a small business owner who has frequently hired contractors throughout my career:

1) Are they punctual? A lack of punctuality is a personal pet peeve because I hate to wait for other people to arrive for client meetings, lunches, networking meetings, or projects that are on a deadline. If a person is continually late, I feel they don’t value other people’s time. And if they’re working for me, that will be a major problem.

2) Are they trustworthy? Is this employee going to handle payroll? Cash? Company checks? Will they be in close contact with customers or clients? If you can trust this person to behave in a professional, courteous, and honest manner at all times, he or she should be a good hire.

3) Do they play well with others? Or do they play too much? If the person being hired doesn’t share his leads, referrals, or details about projects, he or she may not become a very good employee. Business is a collaborative effort, so sharing and playing well with others is a must. On that note, I would check a candidate’s social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter for their latest activity. If they play too much and too often, gauge it against your trustworthy scale.

4) Can you provide an example of how this person handle pressure? This question is always a great barometer for how someone handles stress, as in especially tough client, a volatile situation, or a possible failure. This answer can be the linchpin between being hired, or not making the final cut.

5) Is there any reason you would not hire this person yourself? Is there anything the candidate did in the past that stood out as unprofessional or unethical? It’s always good to ask one final question of business references to put them in your shoes. Their answer can confirm your intuition about this person’s qualifications or condemn them to the reject pile of applicants’ resumes.

About Gil Zeimer

Gil Zeimer is the Creative Director of Zeimer's Advertising Shoppe. As a consultant with 25 years of advertising and blogging experience, he is a Mad Man who works with businesses large and small. Read his marketing musings at
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Christopher Null
Christopher Null

Elena - Answering questions and asking questions aren't covered by the same rules. Just food for thought.

Elena Oppedisano
Elena Oppedisano

Well, according to our state's (CT) Dept of Labor, it is against the law to ask such questions. The only questions you're allowed to ask is their stop and start work date to ensure it coincides with their resume. Trust me - we learned the hard way. My husband received a phone call from someone wanting to hire a former employee of his who was less than stellar (I won't get into details). He answered all questions honestly, but without slandering. Almost a week later two reps from our Dept of Labor were on his doorstep regarding the phone call because his responses were a detriment to the person in question obtaining employment. Even if the person stole or did drugs on the job, you cannot tell a potential employer that. I think it's ludicrous!