Reference Checks

  1. Mail? Many employers still rely on one of the most archaic forms of reference checking: the mailed questionnaire. Why is it archaic? Much like a letter of recommendation, it is only a one-way communication. How, for instance, does the prospective employer ask a follow-up question of a piece of paper? Suppose one of the questions is, “How would you rate the overall performance of the candidate?” Now, suppose the written response is, “No one performed like he did.” What do you suppose that response really means? Is it laudatory or damning with faint praise? How could anyone possibly divine the true meaning of a response like that? This is exactly why sending out a questionnaire is a waste of time. It’s not even possible to verify who actually provided the information or filled out the questionnaire!
  2. In person? Not much space needs to be devoted to discussing the value of going to see references. If money and time were not objects, sitting down with references would be a very nice way of going about it. As a practical matter, however, most of the time going to see references really isn’t a viable option.
  3. Telephone? The best choice, therefore, is actually calling references and having a discussion with them about the candidate’s past job performance. A conversation via telephone is, by definition, a two-way communication. If a response isn’t clear, the prospective employer can always ask for clarification or for more information. Of equal importance, the prospective employer can listen for things like tone of voice, inflection, nuance of meaning, and hesitations—all of which can prompt important follow-up questions. That’s why conducting reference checks by phone is the best and most economical way to collect useful job performance information about candidates for employment.