top of page

Work Reference Questions To Ask

Many employers run work references, but very few employers ask enough of the right questions.

The Key:

Ask questions that enable the person to tell you how the person manages employees, interfaces with superiors, peers, and hourly employees, and how well the person understands their managerial, administrative, and leadership roles.

Many properties tell us they have great difficulty getting reference information. We rarely have trouble.


How We Run References?
  1. We get the candidates permission, in writing, to conduct work references.

  2. When we introduce ourselves, we describe the position and organization the person is being considered for, and we indicate the former employee has given us permission to conduct work references. (if people are hesitant about giving us references we can email them the employees permission.) Then we ask them if they have a few minutes to provide us a work reference. If they don't we jointly identify a time we can call back.

  3. We contact the person's direct supervisors. Why? Because they are usually the only ones who can give us the answers we need. Human Resources Departments (HR) get a bad rap on work references. They normally only give out dates of employment because that is about all they know about most employees. Remember, the person you want to hire probably had almost no contact with the Human Resources Department. Don't blame HR if they are not much help, they are doing the best they can do with the information they have. Always try to talk to the person's direct supervisors.

  4. We ask the right questions. We live in a sue happy world. Employers are rightfully worried about providing information that can come back to haunt them. When employers see that the questions they are asked may be answered truthfully in front of the former employee, they loosen up.

What Is the Real Purpose of Work References?

Employers want to put people into jobs where they will succeed.  Employers also want people who hopefully will grow with their company.

The Objective When We Hire Someone Is To Have A Win-Win Situation.

Hiring and putting people in the wrong position is costly. It costs the company a lot of money. It disrupts the life of the person who fails and usually disrupts their confidence. It certainly disrupts their career progression. Lastly, it has a negative impact on society as a whole. Society is not realizing the full contributions the person could be making if they were in the "right" position for them.

Sample Reference Questions To Ask

The following is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. Nor will employers ask every question. These sample questions are designed to help employers formulate their own reference questions.

  • Did (name of the person we are checking) work for/or with you?

  • Where at?

  • For approximately how long?

(We don't worry about exact dates. Remember, we are usually talking to the person's direct boss. The person providing us the reference won't necessarily remember exact dates.)

The above information gives us rough confirmation on the information the candidate provided to us. Much more important, it lets the person who is providing the reference to switch gears mentally. When you call a person to get a reference they are not expecting the call.

When people are interrupted, they need a couple of moments to collect their thoughts on their former employee. Asking them where and when lets the person think back. Since we have already described the position, hotel, and company the person is being considered for, the person providing the reference starts to have a reference point to answer questions.

How the person responds to the above questions typically gives us an idea of how rushed the person giving the reference really is. Often people think they can give a reference in 1-2 minutes, so they agree even though they are rushed.

Their answer also gives us an idea of how well they really remember the former employee. If it was several years since the person worked for them, that's not always easy to do.

If the person providing the reference appears to be rushed. We ask them how well they think the candidate would fit the position, hotel and company described. This gives the person providing the reference the advantage of telling us what they want to tell us. Then we can ask follow-up questions on important areas not covered in their general answer. The disadvantage to this question is that the answer we get back is always so general in nature that it really tells us very little. There is nothing wrong in scheduling a follow-up call when the person has more time.

  • Was a proper GOP or Departmental Profit Attained?

If not, why not? Always ask both questions at the same time. It lets the person providing the reference know we will not be satisfied with a "yes" or "no" answer. It also lets the person explain their answer. (Which provides more information and often leads to other questions.)

Were their budgets and projections submitted, timely, and realistic? Weekly schedules, training plans, meetings, etc., can all be substituted for budgets and projections if the person did not have budgetary responsibilities.

  • Did they meet the budgets and projections? If not, why?

  • How would you rate their verbal communication skills:

    1. Overall

    2. With Superiors

    3. Peers

    4. Guests

    5. Their Employees

    6. Clients

  • On a 1-10 scale (one low / ten high) how would you rate their written communication skills?

  • Technically, what are their strengths? What technical areas could be improved?

  • Using a 1-10 scale how would you rate them as an:

    1. Effective Supervisor

    2. Trainer

    3. Motivator

    4. Overall developer of employees.

  • As a manager what are their strengths? Any areas to improve upon?

  • Using a rating of Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Needs Improvement to evaluate the person on the following:

    1. Appearance

    2. Dress

    3. Leadership

    4. Initiative

    5. Judgment

    6. Problem Solving

    7. Common Sense.

  • How adaptable was the person to changes when they worked for you?

  • How did the person react under stress? (Some people stay calm. Their acts as a calming influence to everyone around them. Others get up-tight and high strung.)

  • How did this person respond when their ideas were shot down? Can you give an example?

  • Did the person delegate responsibility?

  • How was their follow-up after delegation? Some people are great at delegating but abdicate their authority because they don't follow-up in a timely fashion.

  • What do you feel would be an ideal position for this person at this stage of their career?

  • If you were to hire the person for the position described, are there any areas that you feel they would need extra support to make sure they succeeded in the position?

  • Why did the person leave your employment?

  • Are they eligible for re-employment?

  • Did they have any personal problems, such as drugs, excessive drinking, gambling, or inappropriate personal relationships which adversely impacted their work?

  • Is there anything else you would like to add?

Questions like the above are designed to give employers the information they need to be sure the prospective employee can succeed in the job they are considering them for. Combining reference check information with Diagnostic Evaluations, your hotels analysis from the interview, background investigations, etc. will optimize the chances of hiring a person who will be a "star" in your organization while at the same time advancing their career. The best "WIN-WIN" situation.

bottom of page