What is a candidate background check?

Candidate background checks are not a formality, they are a real, one-time opportunity to learn about your candidate from their previous colleagues, managers or subordinates before you make the final decision of rolling out an offer. A meaningful and objective background check is an inevitable consequence of good, objective questions. We have put together a list of 22 questions that can refine the way you run a background check, with insights from real-time practitioners.

Ask These 22 HR Background Check Questions

Background Check Questions to Ask the Candidates

1. Can you share a couple of professional references with us?

The goal of this background check question: Collect two or three professional references from candidates so that you can verify work history details and learn more about the candidate from them. Here’s an email template to ask candidates for references. 

"Asking about referrals is key for background checks. Especially professional referrals. This way, you can get an idea of what type of employee the candidate will be and gain insights into their past work. ”

Daniel Tejada, Straight Up Growth

2. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

The goal of this background check question: Sometimes there may be things about the candidates that may not emerge in your line of questioning but may be relevant to their employment opportunity with you. This question gives them a chance to tell you about it before you find out from another source.

3. Do you have an active work visa? (If they are from a different country)

The goal of this background check question: To learn if the candidate is legally eligible to work for you or to understand if you may/may not have to spend or work on getting them a working visa.

“One key question that should always be asked during background checks is if the potential hire is legally authorized to work in your country The applicant may be in the United States on a tourist visa, or no visa at all, and would not be able to legally work. Knowing the status of potential hires keeps you, and the individual, out of trouble.”

Gerald Lombardo, The Word Counter

4. I noticed that you took a break for 2 years, was there any specific reason?

The goal of this background check question: Many employers assume that an employment gap is a bad sign and often pass off a good candidate with an employment gap for a candidate without one. 

This question ensures you have given your candidate a chance to explain the gap and you may be surprised at how their responses influence the results. Here’s actual proof from SHRM that when applicants have the chance to explain their employment gap, they get a better shot at the job.


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"It is important to find out the reason for any gaps in order to determine if they are likely to pose a risk to your organization. If an individual has a gap in their employment history because they were incarcerated, that may be cause for concern. On the other hand, if the individual took time off to care for a sick family member, that is not likely to be a problem. A lengthy unemployment gap may also be a red flag, as it could indicate that the person is having difficulty finding work and has missed out on industry trends and changes.”

Marc De Diego Ferrer, MCA Assessors

Background Check Questions to Ask the Professional References

5. Can you confirm Alena’s start and end date, salary, and job title/titles?

The goal of this background check question: This is one of the basic but important employment verification questions to catch any misleading information about the candidate’s employment history from their resume or interviews.

“Asking about previous employment and verifying the work is key when conducting a background check. It gives a strict verification on where the employee worked, the dates of employment if there were previous issues, etc. Overall, previous work history is a safety question that should be asked during background checks.”

Shaun Price, MitoQ

6. What was your working relationship with Alena?

The goal of this background check question: When asked for references, most candidates try to give you contacts of people who would give them glowing recommendations instead of honest feedback. 

This is a great question to stop that from denting the quality of your background checks. Try and understand if this person knows your candidates well enough in a professional context to validate information or give you new information about them. 

If you feel that one of the references isn’t the right person to talk to, you can then lead the conversation by jumping to the next question on this list.

7. Is there any reason you think I should be talking to another person instead of you?

The goal of this background check question: Get the contact of a reference who might have more relevant and real information about your candidate’s work capabilities.

8. Does Alena work better in a team or alone?

The goal of this background check question: To find out if the candidate has got the teamwork skills to don the role. If the role requires that the candidate needs an exceptional team player attitude, this question can give you some very valuable insights to make an informed decision. You can also use this information to plan their training or assignments in the first few months.

"If the candidate's former boss, for example, suggests that the candidate would benefit if you provided them with some teamwork classes, you may want to end the interview early and move on to Candidate B.”

Harriet Chan, CocoFinder

9. Why did you hire Alena?

The goal of this background check question: To understand why the candidate stood out in their interview process. This is a shortcut to understanding their core strengths and the benefits of hiring them. This question may often bring out some real candidate strengths that you were not even looking for in the first place.

10. What were some areas of improvement for Alena in the latest performance review?

The goal of this background check question: Understand if the candidate has any weaknesses that might prevent him from carrying out his responsibilities in the role you are offering them.

“ As the candidate's potential manager, you want to know how to make this person successful in a new role. If you get a thoughtful answer about the applicant, you will have a heads up with more insight that might have taken you weeks or months to discover on the job. Also, if their weaknesses are something that you see as a real hindrance, say anger management issues, you will know this before you commit to this candidate.”

Ouriel Lemmel, WinIt

11. Why did Alena quit <insert: company name>?

The goal of this background check question: To understand if they were fired or if they left on their own. If they were fired, you can understand why and see if it is in any way relevant to their job opportunity with you. If they left on their own, you can find out why and try to address their need or concern through their current role.

“If they were fired or let go from their job, you can reach out to their former employer to learn more about the reason why. If they left on their own, it's good to get insight into their reasons why. This information can help you make an informed decision regarding hiring the candidate.”

Mark Pierce, Cloud Peak Law Group

12. How does Alena respond to feedback, can you give me an example?

The goal of this background check question: Find out if this is a person that your leaders and teams will have smooth working relationships with. In a work environment, the ability to receive, process, and apply feedback is everything - it’s the pillar for growth, leadership, conflict resolution, and more.

13. What’s the best advice you would give someone who is considering hiring Alena?

The goal of this background check question: Make the most out of the call or email, and get as much wisdom as possible from a candidate’s previous employer.

"If I were to hire this applicant, what advice would you give me?" This is a wide-open question and allows the former employer to say whatever they want about the candidate. How they word their response will give you a great idea of what to expect from the candidate and the employer's overall opinion of this person. Paul Moody, ProMoverReviews

14. What can we do to bring out the best in her?

The goal of this background check question: This is a great question to have on your background check questionnaire. You can learn what influences the candidate’s performance positively. This could be anything ranging from detailed feedback to giving them more ownership. Incorporate this feedback as early as possible, even by starting to use it during their onboarding process, it will directly impact their time to productivity.

15. What were some core strengths Alena demonstrated on the job?

The goal of this background check question: Learn about any strengths of the candidate that you and your team may have not identified during the interview process, and while at it, also validate the strengths and skills you spotted.

"Most of the time, a person's most noticeable abilities and traits are those that are most visible to others. With this question, you may identify which capabilities and attributes you can expect to see most frequently from the prospect if they are employed.”
David Bitton, Doorloop

16. What were some of Alena’s biggest achievements on the job?

The goal of this background check question: It’s one of the easiest ways to find out if their strengths translated to significant performance and impacted the overall targets of the team.

17. What does the candidate's time off record look like?

The goal of this background check question: Find out if your candidate will be dependable and responsible. Because if they are not, it will take a toll on the overall morale of their team sooner or later.

“Some organizations are less strict than others when it comes to employee attendance records, you should approach this question with caution. The goal is to see if the candidate is a reliable employee who consistently shows up for work rather than one who has a habit of abuse in terms of sick and annual leave."

Leslie Radka, GreatPeopleSearch

18. How would rate Alena’s communication skills on a scale of 1-10 and why?

The goal of this background check question: Remember, communication isn’t just a language skill. It’s the empathy and attention required to grasp a problem, confidence, and clarity required to articulate instructions/feedback/solutions and present it to teammates or customers in an effective manner.

Whether the role is client-facing or not, a candidate will have to put their communication skills to use. You can complement this question with other background check questions such as, can the candidate communicate effectively under pressure? Do they possess both verbal and non-verbal skills? Answers to this question can also inform you which role or position an applicant is best suited for.”

John Tian, Mobitrix

19. If you had the opportunity, would you rehire Alena?

The goal of this background check question: You can verify the candidate’s eligibility for rehire, and the previous employer’s willingness to work with the candidate again, and the reasons behind it.

"You must ask whether they are eligible for rehire. There are circumstances where an employee may not be permitted to return to the company, and it's usually due to their previous separation being involuntary. If the candidate was previously fired or let go for theft, inappropriate behavior, discrepancies with others, or not showing up to work; company policy may bar their re-entry.

Roy Morejon, Enventys Partners

20. Was Alena able to share goals, give instructions and get her team to follow them?

The goal of this background check question: This question is a subtle way to understand how they were able to influence the team around them in a leadership role or even otherwise.

21. Does Alena have any red flags on his criminal record?

The goal of this background check question: Let’s be clear, it’s not to reject the candidate though that may be the safest and easiest response if you find anything about their criminal record. 

But you may miss out on their exceptional skills, there’s a reason they made it so far in your interview process, right? So, check what corrective measures were taken. 

Evaluate how the recurrence of that crime may affect your team or organization and make a wise decision. For example, if the person has a history of violence you may not employ them in people-facing jobs, but if they cleaned themselves up, you may want to give them a shot at more isolated roles.

“One question you must ask during a background check is the person's criminal record. This includes any arrests, convictions, and parole violations. You should also inquire about any financial crimes such as embezzlement, theft, or fraud. You should also ask about any drug crimes, as this may indicate whether the person is currently using drugs or has ever used them in the past.” 

Paw Vej, Financer.com Ltd

22. Are there any concerns that one can notice on their social profiles?

The goal of this question: Catch any discriminatory public opinions or behavior that do not align with the core values of your organization such as inclusion, diversity, etc.

Note: Do not ask any questions regarding their health or financial status, that opens you up for a discrimination suit.

There are many practical and legal complications in running background checks on employees. While you can do the basic checks yourself, you can rope in a background check services provider (who has experience in doing this for many organizations and complies with regional requirements to run background checks.)

Don’t perceive background checks as a formality, use the feedback you get, even if it means changing some big decisions. Hire right. 

Questions to ask during background checks Questions to ask during background checks