Know what to ask and what not to ask during employment verification

Checking an applicant’s professional references is a critical step in the pre-employment screening process. But do you know what you can and can’t ask? While performing employment verification, any human resources executive or hiring pro can make the innocent error of asking questions that infringe on an applicant’s privacy or open up the employer to discrimination claims by someone who is not ultimately offered the job.

The easiest way to remember what is off limits is to remember you can’t ask a reference any questions you are prohibited from asking an applicant. You must keep the conversation on job-related issues. Here are some sample questions to help get you in the right frame of mind:

  • What was the employee’s starting salary? Ending salary?
  • What was the employee’s starting position? Ending position?
  • Please describe your reporting relationship with the candidate?
  • Please describe the key responsibilities of the candidate in his/her current position.
  • How many reporting staff did the candidate manage?
  • Tell me about the candidate’s most important contributions to the company?
  • Describe the candidate’s productivity, commitment to quality and customer orientation.
  • What are the candidate’s most significant strengths?
  • What are the candidate’s most significant weaknesses?
  • Would you rehire this person? Why or why not?


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Kristina Taylor
In 1989, Kristina began her career as a customer service representative at the newly formed American Tenant Screen, Inc. Ten years later, she pioneered tenant background screening on the Internet. As a long-standing member of the National Multifamily Resident Information Council (formerly the National Association of Screening Agencies) Kristina gains insight into the trends of the tenant screening industry to better understand the current and future needs of their clients.

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