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Behavior Based Reference Check Guidelines

Behavioral-based questions can be asked of a final candidate’s former employers or colleagues. It is important to be prepared with questions before calling a reference and to listen carefully to what is and isn’t said in response to specific questions.

Remember to always start by telling the reference:

  • Your name and title
  • You are calling from University of Idaho
  • The name of the candidate, and the title of the position
  • You are authorized by the candidate to inquire about their previous employment and to call former supervisors, including this reference
  • Time needed for the conversation (if now is not convenient, schedule a time to call back)
  • Information will be kept private and not shared with the candidate

Additional Inquiry Guide

  • When introducing yourself to the current to previous supervisor, do not state that the candidate has been ‘selected’, only that they are a finalist for a position.
  • Consider whether performance problems reported by current or previous supervisors are in areas that might affect performance in the position you are filling and follow up.
  • Be sure there is a job-related reason for asking specific questions.
  • Do not ask any questions about characteristics that are protected by non-discrimination laws and policy, such as questions about gender, race, color, national origin, age, disability, religion, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital or parental status, military or veteran status or genetic information. U of I's Policy of Nondiscrimination is available online.
  • Maintain a high level of confidentiality throughout the process. Do not delegate the additional inquiry responsibility to anyone outside the hiring process, and share information gathered only on a need-to-know basis.

Following is a sample inquiry form which provides a variety of possible competencies and behavioral-based interview questions that can be explored with references regarding a candidate’s past work-related performance. This list is not exhaustive, but should provide sufficient options for most student employment positions. Carefully consider the student position and the skills you are seeking for that position, then select 3-5 questions to ask of the former employer or colleague that directly relate to the needs of the position you are filling.

Please ensure that information received through additional inquiries are weighted in the same way for all candidates for which reference checks are completed. For example, a factor which disqualifies one candidate should be the basis for disqualifying any candidate. Document the information gathered from your reference check calls and include them in the search file maintained by the hiring department.

If you have any questions about the reference check process, including developing follow-up questions and how and whom you may share information collected from references, please be sure to contact the Workforce Diversity Office.

When reference checking, be sure to give a brief description of the position to the person giving the reference (current/former supervisors are in the best position to address work performance). Verify facts listed on the resume such as; position, responsibilities, years of service, reason for leaving. Make sure all questions are job related. Keep in mind that all information received is confidential.

Sample Additional Inquiry Form

Name of Candidate:
Position Title:
Reference Providers Name and Title:

  1. Did you directly supervise, manage, or teach the candidate?
  2. Please give detailed comments on the candidate's:
    • Attendance and dependability
    • Initiative and motivation to take on additional tasks
    • Ability to get along with others
    • Degree of supervision required
    • Professionalism, teamwork and collaboration
    • Overall attitude
  3. Why did the candidate leave your organization (if applicable)?

Behavior-Based Reference Check Questions

  1. What is/was your working relationship with the candidate?
  2. How long have you known the candidate?
  3. How would you describe the candidate’s performance?
  4. What do you think are the candidate’s strengths?
  5. In what areas do you believe the candidate could improve?
  6. Describe the candidate’s technical skills.
  7. Explain the candidate’s supervisory style, if applicable.
  8. Have you had to resolve any conflict related to this candidate?
  9. Are you aware of any problems related to attendance or punctuality?
  10. Describe the candidate’s organizational skills including their ability to follow through.
  11. Has the candidate demonstrated the ability to work in a high volume/fast paced environment?
  12. How would you describe the candidate’s interpersonal skills (i.e. positive, enthusiastic energetic, etc.)?
  13. Is there anyone else you would recommend we speak with to conduct an additional reference check?
  14. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you think is important for me to know?
  15. Are you aware of any instances of inappropriate behavior including violence?
  16. Do you know why the candidate is leaving their current employment?
  17. Would the candidate be eligible for re-employment?
  18. Would you hire the candidate for a position like this?

  1. Describe a complex problem the candidate solved.
  2. Tell me about a time the candidate had to take responsibility for a mistake they made.
  3. Describe a project in which the candidate failed. What did they learn from this?

  1. Tell me about a change that has occurred in the candidate’s workplace. How did they cope with those changes? What did they do to facilitate those changes?

  1. Tell me about how the candidate communicates with others concerning project process, concerns and suggestions.
  2. How would you describe the candidate’s communication style? Please provide an example of its effectiveness.
  3. How does the candidate communicate with people at different levels?

  1. What are the candidate’s key accomplishments or impact on the organization?
  2. In stressful situations, describe how the candidate has reacted.
  3. How does the candidate handle difficult people?
  4. How does the candidate resolve conflict?
  5. Can you explain how the candidate has been effective in supporting other’s successes?
  6. Can you describe a time that the candidate needed to seek guidance? Did they take the initiative or did you or another individual need to reach out to lend that additional guidance?
  7. Give an example of a time when the candidate had to handle a difficult/sensitive issue.
  8. How does the candidate react to change?
  9. How does the candidate handle differing opinions when they are very passionate about a topic/policy/etc.?
  10. How would you describe the candidate’s values and ethics?
  11. What would you say is the candidate’s most positive/negative characteristic as a leader?

  1. Why do you believe the candidate is interested in working at the University of Idaho?
  2. Have you seen the candidate put the goals/needs of the organization over that of their individual unit? Can you provide an example?
  3. Describe a time when the candidate was passionate about a particular process, project, initiative, etc. What was their reaction like and how did other’s respond?
  4. Do you believe the candidate positively reflects the values of the organization?

  1. Tell me about a conflict the candidate had with another employee. How did they resolve the conflict? How did they work towards mending the relationship with that person?
  2. Tell me about the candidate’s relationship with a co-worker who they do not have a good working relationship. What steps have they taken to improve that relationship?
  3. Give me an example of the candidate’s ability to communicate effectively and build relationships with people regardless of cultural differences.

  1. Describe a situation where the candidate demonstrated initiative and took action without waiting for direction. What was the outcome?
  2. Describe a situation in which the candidate had to quickly establish their credibility and gain the confidence of others. What did they do?
  3. What would the candidate do if some team members weren’t doing their share of the work?

  1. Can you provide an example of a time when the candidate took ownership or blamed others during a particular situation?
  2. How does the candidate respond to criticism and resolving interpersonal conflicts?
  3. How have you observed the candidate holding themselves and others accountable?
  4. How has the candidate responded when communicated to about areas of growth and development (i.e. accepting, defensive, etc.)?
  5. Can you explain how the candidate works under tight deadlines?
  6. Has the candidate ever missed a deadline that was critical to the organization/department?
  7. Describe the candidate’s ability to set priorities and follow through.
  8. How would you describe the candidate’s honesty and integrity?
  9. What kind of situations/projects have you placed the candidate into without hesitation versus ones that would cause you to give pause or have concern?

  1. In relation to others in a similar role, how would you rate the candidate on taking initiative?
  2. Give me an example of when the candidate achieved something by their persistence that others couldn’t.

  1. Describe how the candidate works under pressure. Do they anticipate problems effectively or do they just react to them? Can you provide an example?
  2. Tell me about a team/group project in which the candidate was involved. What did they do to ensure the success of the team? Were there any problems?
  3. Describe a situation where the team was having trouble agreeing on a decision and what the candidate did to facilitate consensus.
  4. Give me an example of a situation when the candidate has demonstrated sensitivity to diversity issues.
  5. Describe how the candidate’s ability to communicate effectively and build relationships with many different types of people has contributed to the organization’s success.

  1. Can you provide an example of a time the candidate went “above and beyond” to assist a customer? What made it stand out? What characteristics did the candidate exhibit that made this encounter notable?
  2. Do you know of an instance in which the candidate altered/improved a process for the sole benefit of customers?
  3. Overall, how would you describe the candidate’s interactions with customers/clients?
  4. Describe the candidate’s experience and effectiveness in training new employees.
  5. Explain what your thoughts are on the candidate’s ability to be flexible and understanding of other cultures.
  6. How comfortable is the candidate working in a diverse environment?

  1. How would you describe the candidate’s relationships with co-workers, subordinates, and supervisors?
  2. Does the candidate always conduct their dealings with others in a tactful manner? Please explain.
  3. Please describe the candidate’s role and outlook on team/group interactions.
  4. Was the candidate a valuable member of the team? Why or why not?
  5. What strategies would you say the candidate used to motivate their team or team members?
  6. Can you tell me about a time that the candidate was part of a team and the project/initiative they were working on succeeded/failed? How did the candidate influence that outcome?
  7. Can you share an example when the candidate successfully inspired a team?
  8. What types of people work well with the candidate? What types of people do not?

  1. How proficient is the candidate with delegation and information sharing with their supervisor, work group, and/or team?
  2. How would you describe the candidate’s verbal/written communication style? Does the candidate excel in one over the other?
  3. Can you provide an example of how the candidate communicates internally and externally to the organization?
  4. Can you give an example of a time when the candidate had to deliver difficult information to a higher level administrator or team?
  5. Describe your comfort level with the candidate giving presentations to your board, funders, political officials, media, etc.?
  6. Can you describe the effectiveness of the candidate’s communication with customers?

  1. Describe a time when the candidate went above and beyond the call of duty.

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