Reference Checks: Are they still used?

Do you know what questions you should ask during your reference checks?

So you’re at the point in the interview process where you have 1-2 strong candidates for your open position. The interviews are over and you are trying to decide who will be the best fit for your organization. You know that making the wrong decision could cost your organization over $50,000, so what do you do? Check their references.

Reference checks do three things. It verifies that the individual is who they claim to be. It allows you to gain insight as to how they are viewed by their peers and supervisors. And it gives you the opportunity to find out additional information the candidate didn’t reveal in their application or on their resume. It may seem silly to check references after you’ve spoken with the candidate several times, but remember candidates are people too. And what we do know about people is that they often lie or exaggerate the truth.

Make sure these questions are on your list to ask during your next round of reference checks.

1. What is your relationship to the applicant?

Since this is a pre-employment reference, you are looking for professional references rather than personal references, who can speak about the candidate without getting emotionally involved.

2. Does the candidate show up on time and work hard?

This question is pretty obvious. More importantly than your new hire being a great person who gets along with the whole office, you need that new hire to be a great worker.

3. What are the candidate’s greatest strengths? And their greatest weaknesses?

You are looking for strengths here that directly correlate to the position that the candidate is in consideration for. When it comes to weaknesses, think about which ones can be corrected over time. These types of weaknesses shouldn’t be a discouragement that the candidate is not a fit for your position.

4. Would you rehire the candidate if the situation presented itself?

This is a very telling question about the overall value, likeability, and character of the candidate. Listen to the tone of the response just as much as the words spoken by the reference. A hesitant and non-specific response is not nearly as positive as one said with intent and an upbeat intonation.

5. Is there anything else I should know about the candidate?

Ending with an open-ended question is a great way to get the reference talking honestly and openly about the candidate. By allowing the reference to speak freely, with minor directing questions, you can find out valuable information on the candidate’s attitude, work style, and accomplishments.

Before you start calling the candidates’ references, sit down and prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Ask all references the same basic questions. Being consistent is the best way to protect your company from any sort of lawsuit.

Remember, asking questions about topics such as religion, gender identity, marital status, and national origin are off limits during reference checks, just like they are during an interview. These are protected classes that could open you up to a discrimination lawsuit, should you choose not to hire someone.