Reference Categories

How Many References Can I Request?


“How many references can I request when doing a reference check?” is a common question that gets asked every day.  The answer depends on a number of factors:

  • Is this for employees, applicants, volunteers, vendors, or visitors?

  • What is the candidate going to be doing?

  • What is the objective of the reference check?

  • What method(s) are you going to use to obtain the references?

  • Is this for employment or a volunteer opportunity?

In most cases, the types of questions that are asked for a prospective employee reference check will contain specific “required” questions of previous employers.  These questions will require factual answers. For example, “When did you work with this candidate?” or “In what capacity did you work with the candidate?”

There normally would be 3-4 of these types of questions to validate the source of the reference.  If this were a volunteer opportunity, the number of factual questions required would be much less- if any at all.  The general idea of volunteer reference checks is to determine if the applicant is qualified and has relevant experience.  

What is the candidate going to be doing?

If the candidate is going to be working with sensitive information such as finances, then there is a need to gather more information regarding character, knowledge, and necessary skills.  If the applicant is going to be working with children or with diverse populations, deeper information is needed. Such an applicant has to be a fit with a history of displaying appropriate behavior, temperament, and cultural awareness.  

What is the objective of the reference check?

Is the objective of a reference check to gather more data about the applicant in order to make a more informed hiring decision, or is the reference check being done to simply check the box that says a reference check is complete?  A reference check should be completed for the purpose of gathering increased data on the candidate/applicant.  Using that information to make a more informed decision increases the value of the organization as a whole.  If reference checking is being done to simply satisfy a process, then it will be a waste of time.  Data abuse or ignorance during the hiring process is one of the largest factors in creating a high turnover within an organization.  

What method(s) are you going to use to obtain the references?

Many think that there is only 1 way to obtain references- phone.  Not true. There are many ways to obtain information. They are:

  • Phone

  • Mail

  • Personal interview

  • Email

  • Text

  • Video

All of the above are acceptable means of gathering information. The method that is chosen depends on the time that is allocated to reference collecting.  When using phone, mail, personal interview or video, 4 to 6 questions are normally asked because of the time that it has taken to arrange these meetings. Cold calling doesn’t usually yield plentiful or satisfactory results.

An automated process for gathering references allows for many more questions to be asked and much more data to be collected. It is an efficient use of time and doesn’t require the need for pre-arranged appointments.  What is lost when there isn’t personal interaction and interpretation will be gained in the amount of data that can collected. The convenience of automation allows for an increased number of questions to be asked of references. This means there will be increased information available to potential employers.

Matching the method used to check references to the requirements and skills needed for the position will provide your organization a strong foundation for building a compatible workforce.

“You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data”

Daniel Keys Moran