What Questions Can Employers Ask References?


what questions can employers ask references

The purpose of a reference call is to find out whether or not a candidate was a good performer during a previous job, volunteer role, or class project, among other examples.

Typically, your references should be people who you have a good relationship with and are willing to speak positively of you should you hope to receive a job offer. You should also make sure you have their permission for an employer to reach out to them. 

When thinking about who you want to ask to be your references, it’s important to think about what questions can employers ask references and then select references that will answer those in a positive way.

To that end, this article is going to shed some light on what employers may ask references.

Let’s dive in.

What Questions Can Employers Ask References?

thinking person

Employers can ask references about their interactions with you in a professional capacity, as well as questions that may get a sense of what kind of person you are. This helps them ensure they’re hiring someone who will be not only a hard worker, but easy to get along with and willing to cooperate with their colleagues and supervisors. 

There are a variety of reference questions that could be asked. Some employers may have a longer list of questions, while others may only ask a few. Here are some of the more common ones:

What 5 Questions Will Employers Ask My References?

Question #1: What was the candidate’s role when they worked with you, and how long did you work together? 

how to ask someone to be a reference

In asking this question, which is a good starting point for the call, the employer wants to make sure you did not misrepresent yourself in your application. The job title and relationship to the reference should match what was on your resume and application. If it doesn’t, the employer could believe you were lying and rescind the offer. 

The reference checker will probably go beyond the job title as well and ask about previous job responsibilities. While this is another way of verifying what was on your resume, it can also help the new employer confirm the necessary experience for the role and you can handle the responsibilities. 

Question #2: What were some of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? 


We all have strengths and weaknesses, and different abilities make us better suited to some jobs than others. When asking about the strengths, the reference checker wants to know what will make you a valuable contributor to the new team.

Being asked about weaknesses can feel like the reference checker is looking to disqualify you, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Not all weaknesses will keep you from succeeding in your new role; for example, you don’t have to be a sales superstar if you’ve been offered a software development position.

But if your references are being checked for a sales role and your reference says one of your weaknesses is that you can’t make conversation with a prospect, this could be a red flag and cause the employer to hesitate on going through with the offer

Question #3: Do they have good communication skills?

customer meeting

The reference checker wants to know how well you communicates at work. Do you speak up when you’re not sure of how to complete a task? If you’re working remotely, do you stay in touch with your supervisor and colleagues, or do you tend to ignore emails for long periods of time?

While there are many ways to go into more detail on this question, depending on your job title and how much communication is required, it’s a way of ensuring you work well as part of a team and can bring questions and concerns to your supervisor’s attention before they cause bigger problems. 

Question #4: How do they handle stressful situations? 


Every job has challenges, whether that be a demanding client or a yearly busy season. The reference checker wants to know how you handle those situations. For example, they may ask if you know when to speak up and delegate work if you have too much on your plate. They’re looking for a sense of how you work under pressure and whether you can still be a team player that can handle a fast paced environment.

Question #5:Would you rehire this person? 

accepted job offer

This question is pretty straightforward. If you were on the job market again and applied at your former company, would your manager feel comfortable bringing you back? A green light indicates that you performed at a high level and got along well with others in the organization, while any hesitancy or a no answer says that you didn’t stand out in a positive manner. 

What Questions Can Employers Not Ask References? 


Employers should not ask anything that could be used against you in an illegal or discriminatory way, such as whether or not you plan on having children, how old you seem to be, or what religion you practice. This is similar to best practices for job interviews, where these types of questions should be avoided so employers can make the most unbiased hiring decisions. 


The above questions are just examples of what employers can ask your references. There are several other questions that may not be featured here, and some employers may even prefer to follow a list and ask the same reference questions of every new hire.

At this stage, the employer is making sure the claims you made on your resume and in your job interview match up, and if your references agree that you’re the same person who aced the interview at your new company, you can be rest assured it won’t be long before you’re starting your new job. 

About the author

Alison Myers

Alison Myers is an experienced online writer and editor. She's written and reviewed content for sports media and a wide range of online courses. She works in talent acquisition and professional development at a law firm, where she's responsible for communicating with candidates, conducting reference checks, and scheduling interviews, among other responsibilities.

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