Remember the “more information is always better than less” notion I’ve been writing about? Checking just one reference is never good enough! The idea behind careful reference checking is to look for consistency among the comments made by multiple references. The validity of reference checking can only come from talking to at least three work-related references. That’s how you compare and contrast comments and explore inconsistencies – and that’s how informed hiring decisions are made.
Ideally, references will also enable the prospective employer to compare comments about job performance over time. Why does that matter? Well, because people change over time, they acquire new skills, and existing skills improve; a weakness from five years ago could very well have become a strength by this year – and the reverse is also possible.
For example, management skill at the beginning of a candidate’s career could have been marginal back then but, through training and actual experience, could have become outstanding by now. A prospective employer needs to know that.
On the other hand, the enthusiastic hands-on manager may have become less so in mid-career and, perhaps, have turned into a manager who prefers to delegate tasks to subordinates.
Evaluating job performance over time is just about as important as evaluating it from the different perspectives of multiple references!