Reference Checks

In this entry, I am going to revisit a theme I addressed a couple of months ago – how to determine a reference’s reliability. As I mentioned previously, determining a reference’s reliability is one of the common problems employers face when checking someone’s references.  It’s only natural to expect job seekers to provide references they believe will say only good things about them.  That’s why many employers think checking references is a waste of time.  But, there are techniques to use to verify the reliability of a reference.

First, establish the nature of the association between the candidate and the reference.  One of the best ways to avoid talking to one of the candidate’s pals, who thinks he’s doing his friend a favor by pretending to be a former boss, is by asking relationship questions at the beginning of the interview.  For example, start by asking how the reference is acquainted with the candidate.  No matter what the response to that question is, next ask how long and where the reference and the candidate worked together or ask how long the reference and the candidate were directly associated on the job.

Note: At this point, there should be a direct correlation between the responses to those two questions and the job described on the candidate’s resume or job application. If the information doesn’t match, if there’s a lack of correlation, a huge red flag should go up because someone isn’t being completely honest.

Next, ask the reference to describe the candidate’s actual job responsibilities during the time they worked together.  If you’re talking to the candidate’s buddy, it’s unlikely he will know in any detail exactly what tasks were being performed by the candidate.  Even if the answer is vague, ask the “reference” if he can give you some specific examples of projects the candidate handled when the two of them worked together.  The candidate’s poor buddy will be lost by this point – and you’ll both know it!

I would submit there is no way a phony reference could successfully fake answers to questions about job title, dates of employment, place of employment, and responsibilities carried out.  If none of the information matches the candidate’s resume or job application, it’s time to be more than a little suspicious of the “reference.”  This is a good way to determine if a reference is legitimate and reliable.