When you’re checking references, some previous employers won’t give you a chance to find out much. But if you manage to reach someone who is willing to talk, you don’t want to blow it. Here’s a set of techniques that will help you get a realistic assessment of your applicant:

1. After describing the position you’re seeking to fill, ask a general question like, “How do you think (applicant) will fit into our position?” Then you can ask more specific questions as suggested by the initial answer(s).

2. If your contact is reluctant to discuss some area, say something like this: “The reason I ask about emotional stability is that the holder of this job needs to be able to withstand high pressure without melting down. Can (applicant) do that, in your opinion?”

3. To make sure you have your contact’s candid opinion, near the end of the conversation say, “I take it you don’t recommend (applicant) very highly” or “I take it you recommend (applicant) very highly,” depending on the context. The response will often tell you a lot.

Source: “The Everything HR Kit,” by Putzier and Baker.

1 Comment

  • Michael Brisciana says:

    Stephen – – –

    Thanks for these pointers.  One tip that I always suggest when delivering training on interviewing and reference checking is … pick 2 – 3 questions similar to those that you asked in the interview (particularly questions about performance characteristics).  For example, if collaboration with colleagues and ability to meet deadlines are two of the two key skills/characteristics required for the position, and you’ve questioned the candidate on these points in the interview, then you can ask the same of the reference — i.e., “Can you tell me your observations of the candidate’s ability to collaborate with colleagues?”

    This serves a few purposes … 1 – it gives you further information (i.e., more of a 360-degree view) on a key characteristic; 2 – it helps confirm (or refute) what the candidate has said about himself/herself on that point; and 3 – it is open-ended, so it avoids yes/no answers that don’t yield much useful information.

    Many thanks (I enjoy your daily posts very much!).

    Michael Brisciana

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