The Top Ten Reference Questions — According to Research

Do you ever wonder what your future employer plans to ask your references?

A survey of 500 human resources professionals showed that over 90% of employers ask questions about these ten topics:

  1. Reason for leaving.
  2. Character traits.
  3. Attendance.
  4. Discipline problems.
  5. Strengths and weaknesses.
  6. Ability to get along with others.
  7. Eligibility for rehire.
  8. Job performance.
  9. Work ethic.
  10. Overall opinion.

Share those ten topics, along with your future job description, with your references. Then, using the ten questions, and the selection criteria in the job description, help your references understand how well you fit the job.

Having this conversation will help them imagine you in the new job. When they can do that, they will frame their answers more in that context than in the context of your old job. If you’re worried about any negatives from an old job, this will go a long way toward eliminating them.

Be sure to ask your prospective employer if they plan to call people who aren’t on your list. Those are called “back door references.” They happen. If your prospective employer plans to dig beyond your list, call those people and prepare them as well.

Giving people a heads up, and giving them time to think about how they want to discuss you, is both thoughtful and likely beneficial to you.

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Email me at for more information.

Image: Fotolioa/stepan popov
Updated June 2017

© 2010 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

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