Reference Call Question Library


Reference calls are playing a growing role in the hiring process because they provide valuable insights about each applicant.  In fact, research shows that when employers are considering extending a job offer, they place more importance on the reference call than skills and personality assessments. This is a list of reference questions that measure specific attributes through a co-worker or manager for unbiased insights. 

Select the desired attribute to see the questions used to measure it.

This library of questions is broken up into the following sections:

Specific Skills

General template for measuring a particular skill

Emotional Intelligence

Questions that measure the difference areas of emotional intelligence

Other Important Attributes



**Note: Some questions measure multiple attributes in an applicant and can be used across attributes to help you get the most out of your reference calls.


Specific Skills

The skills that are needed to be successful are different for each job. Templates for measuring the particular skills needed in any given position are listed below. Note that these type of questions can be applied to any attribute that you are looking for in an applicants.

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being very poor to 10 being excellent, what would you rank (insert name)’s (insert important skill for the role–i.e. teamwork, ability to communicate) capability?
  • How would you rank (insert applicant's name) skill in (skill name) compared with the rest of the team they worked on?
  • We really need someone who has (insert skill) in this role. How would you rate the proficiency of [applicant name] in this area?
  • We are hoping that the person we hire for our role is going to be the manager of the team one day. Did you see management capabilities in (insert name) while s/he was at your company?

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Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence includes a vast range of attributes that allows people to recognize the presence and meanings of emotions in others and use that knowledge to successfully problem solve in social situations. We have broken down the different elements of emotional intelligence below. 



The ability to see for one to see themself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection. Self-awareness also refers to how ones own behavior impacts those around them.

  • Tell me how self aware (applicant) is on a scale from 1-10. Meaning they can clearly and objectively see them selves and how they impact other.
  • Can you think of a time the applicant showed high self-awareness? 
  • How long does it usually take the applicant to realize they are stressed or upset? <Wait & Listen> Can you describe how the applicant communicates those feelings to others in the workplace? Can you give me an example?

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Self Regulation/Management (Emotional Self Control)

The ability to regulate ones self without intervention from external sources.

  • Can you tell me about a time when the applicant was put in a difficult situation? How did they react?
  • How well does (applicant) accept feedback without getting defensive?
  • How well did the (applicant) perform under stressful conditions such as facing sales or project deadlines?

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The ability to adjust to new conditions or situation.

  • On a scale of 1-10 how adaptable to changing environments to you think this applicant is?
  • Can you tell me about a time this applicant was put in a new situation? How did they respond?
  • How well did the candidate deal with any organizational or management changes that took place or any customer sales or service issues?

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Social Awareness (Empathy/Sympathy/Organizational Awareness)

The ability to take the perspective, and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

  • How much empathy does this person show?
  • On a scale of 1-10 how likely is this applicant to identify the emotions in a room full of colleagues?
  • Does the applicant listen to others and ask the right questions when needed?
  • Does the applicant know when to escalate a problem?

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Social Regulation (Relationship Management/Social Skills/Interpersonal Skills)

The ability to manage relationships and find common ground to build rapport with others. 

  • Tell me about a time where the applicant found the way they were interacting with other people in the workplace, either customers or coworkers, wasn't working as well as expected. How did they become aware these interactions weren't working? <Wait & Listen> Where they able to implement a better approach in the future?
  • Can you tell me an experience where the applicant used their knowledge of the feelings of others to improve relationships to achieve their goals in the workplace?
  • Is the applicant able to establish effective working relationships?

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Other Important Attributes

Below are a group of other specific attributes that have been proven to be valuable in high performing employees.



Assumes responsibility for successfully accomplishing work objectives and delivering business results; setting high standards of performance for self and others.

  • Please tell me about a time [applicant name] demonstrated ownership of a project. Were they accountable for the results?
  • Tell me about a time [applicant name] took responsibility for something outside their job's typical requirements. Why did they do it? What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time [applicant name] made a mistake at work. How did they react?
  • How does the candidate do with deliverables? Are they done on-time, and ready to use by the next person?

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Motivated by success and passionate about working and achieving higher results. Persists to complete tasks, even when difficulties arise. Eager to improve.

  • Tell me about a time where [applicant name] was given a daunting project that took a lot of effort and time to complete. What was this project? What were the results?
  • Can you share a time when [applicant name] was faced with a difficult project or goal? What was the situation, what did the applicant do, and what were the outcomes?
  • Tell me a time [applicant name] worked to improve performance at work?

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The ability to successfully share ideas and feelings. send and receive information 

  • Can [applicant name] communicate information and ideas in a way that others can clearly understand?
  • How would you describe [applicant name] communication skills?
  • Can you tell me about a time when [applicant name] had to communicate a complex idea with the team? How did they do it? What was the result?

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The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles and moral uprightness. This is often a basic qualification you would want in any role but is often overlooked.

  • When did you work together and what was your relationship with the candidate? (This will help you verify if the applicant is being truthful.)
  • Are the job title and job description I have accurate? (This will help you verify if the applicant is being truthful.)
  • What were the candidate’s job duties and performance objectives? (This will help you verify if the applicant is being truthful.)[
  • [Applicant name] indicated they were the top 10% of all performers on your team. Would you agree with this assessment?
  • Is the candidate trustworthy?
  • Are there any incidents that would indicate that [applicant name] was not always 100% honest?
  • Was the candidate ever subject to disciplinary action? What were the circumstances and the outcome?

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The quality of being friendly, generous and considerate

  • Does [applicant name] always treat others with respect?
  • How did teammates and colleagues like working with [applicant name]?
  • How does [applicant name] treat peers, senior management, clients, customers, partners, etc.?

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The ability to lead a group of people or an organization.

  • How effectively does [applicant name] build strong and diverse teams?
  • How well does [applicant name] guide direct reports by setting reasonable goals and objectives?

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The ability to deal with more than one task at the same time.

  • Please describe a situation that required [applicant name] to do a number of things at the same time. How did she handle it? What was the result?

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Prior Demonstrated Success

Clearly shows the existence of success in ones past. For job selection purposes, it is best to look at previous success in work situations. If previous work situations are not available, as often happens with entry level positions, it is also acceptable to reference other personal accomplishments. 

  • Did [applicant name] consistently hit or miss goals/quotas?
  • Would you say [applicant name] made a substantial, average, or below average contribution to the organization? Please describe the reasons for your answer.
  • How successful was [applicant name] in their previous roles in your organization?
  • Is/was [applicant name] one of the top performers on the team?

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Results Oriented

Focuses on desired results. Sets and achieves challenging goals.

  • Can you tell me about a time when [applicant name] had to set goals for themself? Did they choose exceptional goals from the start? Did they meet or exceed those goals?
  • Give me an example of a time where [applicant name] set difficult goals for themself. What were those goals and why did [applicant name] consider them difficult? What were the results?
  • Tell me about a time when [applicant name] had to re-evaluate their goals. What was the scenario and how high were the goals before they re-evaluated them? What made the re-evaluated goals more realistic?

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Something missing from the list? Let's create it.

If there’s a specific attribute you want to measure, or something you’d like to add to this list just let us know and we’ll see if we can find or create the right question(s) for your situation. 


Share your suggestions and we'll keep you updated on the latest insights.