5 ways to Predict Honesty with Questions to Ask References

Reference Checking 5 ways to Predict Honesty with Questions to Ask References

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Looking to hire an honest employee?  Who isn’t! If there was a way to predict someone’s honesty before you hired them, would you do it?  Of course! Well, you’re in luck because there are questions to ask references that can help tell if future employees will be honest.

Imagine a world in which you could expect trust, reliability, and honesty from your employees.  You could sleep at night knowing your data, sales info, money, clients’ privacy, (you name it), were safe, because you’d trust your employees and co-workers.  Questions to ask references do just that “because they verify information uncovered elsewhere in the [interview and hiring] process” says the National Ethics Forum.

So what are some questions to ask references that will help you determine honesty in future employees?  Read on.

  1. Verify some facts. First, make sure you’re talking with the right person – a former boss, manager, supervisor, or the like will do.  You’re looking to verify employment dates, title, responsibilities, and skill set, which brings us to the next one.
  2. Out of all the questions to ask references and one that even the most moral candidate will want to fudge a bit is skill set / expertise level.  Pick skills critical to the role you’re hiring for and ask the reference for examples of how the candidate demonstrated these.  (Don’t forget it’s possible they didn’t use all their skills for that role but be sure to ask about the ones you care most about.)  If the reference can back up what’s on the resume, consider it verified.
  3. How did the candidate handle feedback and / or criticism about their work?  Did they have an open and frank conversation about it or did they spend time trying to push things off on others, lay blame elsewhere, or try to lie about various circumstances?  It’s also a pretty good indicator of dishonesty if the candidate tried to take credit for something another employee did or, if they instead made a point of giving credit to the right partes.  
  4. Flat out ask about honesty!  Questions to ask references that predict honesty are probably those that actually address honesty head on.  Did you find this person honest?  If you were to list the top three qualities of this candidate, would honesty be one of them?  You can ask it a few different ways but the end goal is clear.  It’s an honest question looking for an honest answer.
  5. Is there anything else you’d like to share about this candidate?  This purposefully leaves it open ended so the reference can share anything that’s on their mind.  Do encourage them to answer, even if it’s not putting the candidate in the best light. This is, after all, a mini interview to see if you can hire the candidate. Questions to ask references are truly just a smaller set of interview questions to ask people who know the candidate better than you and are qualified to answer.

Honest employees are a huge bonus.  They can save companies money in the long run and contribute to a better working environment for everyone involved.  Often companies use questions to ask references that predict honesty partnered with integrity tests, doubling down on ensuring they hire the right candidates.  This can lead to a win / win scenario for both the company and the potential hire.  Who doesn’t want a win / win? Be honest…

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