By: Krystal Freeman on April 9th, 2014

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5 Best Questions to Ask When Performing Reference Checks

Best Practices | Talent Acquisition

So, you are at the end of your recruitment and ready to make the move to hire a qualified candidate. Not so fast! You need to check those references! Have you thought about what to ask and the topics you would like to cover when speaking with the references?  Let’s take a little time to address some topics and questions for you to speak about.

1) Performance History: This is probably one of the most important things to ask about as it will give you some insight into how the employee performed; if their performance was inconsistent; and whether they were considered a solid performer or if they required hand holding. Now, if you are hearing good things from the references but then he/she says, “you will have to give clear direction” that is not necessarily a red flag. It could mean the employee looks for direction and is then able to complete the task on their own or it could mean the employee requires “hand holding”. However, before jumping to any conclusions take the time to do a deeper dive and ask for specific examples.

2) Work History: It’s important to know why a candidate may have left a previous position. This can be tied to performance but it can also be seen a separate issue. For example, hiring an employee that left a position without giving notice is typically considered a red flag. Employees that move around a bit can also be considered a red flag but for others it may not be. Research has shown that Millennials (employees born between the years 1980 – 1995 according to CBS’ 60 Minutes) move around quite a bit. Typically, they stay with a position for about 1-2 years as they are always looking for the next challenge. Now, that’s not a bad thing as it shows an employee that is driven and eager to learn.

3) The Relationship: The relationship between the candidate and their reference is very important. A colleague will give an opinion about a candidate from a peer perspective and a manager, will give an opinion from a supervisory perspective. When asking for references be specific and ask the candidate to provide the relationship to which they have with their professional references. A candidate that provides only colleagues, could be a red flag as they may not have a manager that could provide a positive insight into their work history. So, in theory a good mix of colleagues and managers is good because it will provide insight into how a candidate interacts with their peers as well as management.

4) Fit for the Position: Be prepared to ask each of the references about duties performed in the candidate’s previous positions. This will provide an understanding of what the candidate is capable of doing, not doing, and what does or does not interest them.  After receiving information about previous duties, take the time to describe the position the candidate is being considered for with your organization. After providing the information ask a follow up question to the reference, “based on what I have told you, do you feel the candidate will be a good fit for the position?”

5) Fit for the Organization: We have addressed fit for the position but cultural fit is just as important. Anyone can come in and do a job if they have the skillset but will they be a fit for the organization culturally? While asking if you think the candidate will be a fit for the vacancy feel free to ask the reference about their cultural environment. This will tell you as the manager if the candidate will be able to thrive or wither in your environment. As an added step, describe your organization, what they do, and the market served. Many times you may not have to ask about the culture of a candidate’s previous place of employment. The reference may just offer you insight as to whether or not the candidate will be a good fit.

The hiring process can be scary but be confident and arm yourself with knowledge and insight about the candidate. From there, you should be able to make a successful hire.