Reference checks are a critical part of hiring your early-stage team for any candidate you haven’t worked directly with. As a startup, one bad hire can set you back months. Getting references will validate or invalidate the information you gathered during the interview process. They’ll usually give you additional signal (positive or negative) and sometimes raise flags you missed during the interview process.

Best practices for references

There are two types of references — formal references and back-channel references.

High-level best practices

How to conduct a reference call

You should start most reference calls by sharing a bit about your company & role and learning more about your reference & their relationship to the candidate. Then, you can dig into the meat of the reference. Typically, you’ll want to get signal on the candidate’s work, their strengths, their areas for improvement/gaps, and a high-level rating from the reference. You should tailor a few of your questions to specific things important to your company’s role or that you’re lacking signal on based on interview performance.

Here’s a template you can use to structure your reference calls, including many example questions. Note, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, nor should you ask every reference question every time:

  1. Start with some context on your company & the role you’re considering the candidate for
  2. Learn more about the reference themself & their relationship to the candidate
  3. Get a high-level overview of the candidate’s work
  4. Strengths
  5. Areas for improvement/gaps