Photo of female individual filling out online reference check form on laptop

Employment Reference Check Form: Guide and Template

Lauren Woodyard
February 22, 2023
4 min read

Verifying a job candidate’s skill set, qualifications, and experience are helpful parts of the hiring process; however, it may be beneficial to get additional insight into a candidate’s character and work performance by performing a reference check.

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It’s by contacting the candidate’s previous employers or professional colleagues that you’re better able to confirm not only their skills, but get more information about their personal character as well. Additionally, while you may be among the 94% of organizations that include background checks as part of the hiring process, it may be helpful to use a reference check to get a comprehensive picture of potential new hires.

Not only does a reference check help you identify top-performing job candidates, the screening may help you identify candidates that will best fit with your existing team. For example, a reference may help you determine how an individual responds to conflict or how they respond to feedback. With this information, you can feel confident you’re bringing on an individual based on the most relevant, available information you can gather. 

To help you properly conduct a reference check and streamline the process, as well as avoid potential obstacles, you may wish to use a reference check form. In this article, we’ll review what a reference check form is, how to create one, and provide an example of a reference check template that your organization can use in its hiring process.

What is a reference check form?

A reference check form is a template or document used during the reference check process that may contain standard questions that managers can use to collect information about a candidate’s personal and professional character. The form also helps to ensure that hiring managers, human resources representatives, or recruiters ask references the same questions to help avoid any claims of discrimination or bias. You can easily customize the document to include questions relevant to your business or specific job position.

Using a reference check form has several benefits for both the hiring organization and job candidate:

  • Streamlines the reference check process
  • Maintains consistency across all candidates
  • Allows references to fill out reference information on their own time
  • May help protect against negligent hiring lawsuits

How to create an employment reference check form

Creating a reference form requires some planning but is, in most cases, a straightforward exercise. The steps below outline how to create a reference check form on your own:

1. Select a format

You may wish to create both a physical and digital copy of your reference check form which you can then distribute based on the individual’s preference. With either format, you may wish to use a template, like the one provided below, or create your own. 

If your organization’s hiring and onboarding process is mostly conducted digitally, using a digital format can help keep the process moving in a timely manner.

2. Write questions

The employment reference check form should include questions you plan to ask the respondent (the person providing the reference). These questions can be written in a variety of formats, including yes/no, open-ended, sliding scale, true/false, and more. 

Federal, state, and/or local laws may prohibit certain questions from being asked. For example, certain jurisdictions may restrict asking about how much a previous employer paid a candidate. We recommend speaking with your legal counsel to ensure your questions are compliant.

For example, the form may include questions such as:

  • Verifying the candidate’s education and employment history
  • Determining the candidate’s general demeanor in a professional setting
  • Asking the reference about the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses
  • If the candidate had any noteworthy accomplishments while they were in their current or previous positions
  • What, if any, areas the candidate may need to improve on

Additionally, references should be able to easily fill out the report form, which means you need to be mindful of the format of the document. It should be easy to read, edit, save, and submit to create a good experience for the reference and streamline the intake process on the back end. 

3. Include instructions for the respondent

Include clear instructions on how to complete the form, who to contact should they have questions, and when and how to submit the form. Digital forms can be submitted relatively quickly and may not require a long timeline for submission; however, paper copies will likely take longer to complete and submit. Take this into account when setting a deadline for completion.

4. Create and send the form

Depending on the format you choose for your employment reference form, the final version of the form will vary. Include a short message that explains the purpose of the form and how that information may be used.

For example, if you’re sending a copy in the mail, leave enough space on the form for the respondent to fill in their answers. It’s recommended the form be no longer than one page. For emailed forms, convert the document to a PDF or include a link to the form that the respondent can then fill out. Finally, if you’re conducting a reference check over the phone, you will fill in the answers yourself (either online or on a physical copy). 

Remember, if references are filling out the form themselves, be sure to give them a return date by which to complete the employer reference check form. This ensures the hiring process moves forward in a timely manner.

Reference check template

To help you create your own version of this document, use this employment reference check template for inspiration:

Dear [Reference],

My name is [your name] and I’m reaching out on behalf of [candidate] who has applied for [job position] at [name of company]. They have listed you as a reference for [former job title] at [previous company].

Below are questions regarding [candidate’s] employment and education history as well as their personal character and work ethic. Please answer the following questions truthfully and completely:

  • Name and current job title
  • Position(s) held while working with candidate
  • How long have you known the candidate?
  • What were the candidate’s primary responsibilities in this position?
  • How would you rate the candidate’s performance in this position?
  • How are the candidate’s communication skills?
  • Was the candidate on time for work each day?
  • What would you consider the candidate’s biggest strengths? Weaknesses?
  • How did the candidate get along with coworkers and supervisors?
  • The candidate is being considered for [job position]. Do you feel they would be a good fit?
  • Is there anything else you would like us to know about [candidate]?

Please send the completed report form back to me by [return date]. Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at [contact information]. Thank you for your time!

Sincerely,

[Your name]

[Contact information]

The reference check template should be customized to your specific needs and the position you’re hiring for. This will help you get a more complete overview of the candidate so you can make a more informed decision. 
Once the form has been completed, it should be reviewed by you, other hiring managers, and your human resources department.

Get a reference check with Checkr

Reference checks can provide employers with insight into a candidate’s preferred working style, character, and ability to work within a team. While the process of contacting and meeting with references can be time-consuming, a pre-employment reference check form can help to streamline the process. 

If you’re looking to conduct reference checks as part of your hiring process, Checkr offers both personal and professional reference checks. Reference checks can be done as a standalone screening or as part of a comprehensive background check. Our background screening options are designed to meet your hiring needs, including criminal history, employment and education verification, motor vehicle record checks, and more.  

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Disclaimer

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the author

As Content Marketing Manager at Checkr, Lauren develops resources to educate employers about background checks, hiring best practices, and related compliance. She also writes about Checkr’s company news and product updates.

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