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Reference Checks

Please remember that the following questions can be asked in any number of ways and can also be modified to fit different situations or to fit the style of the person making the reference calls.

  1. How would describe first name’s overall ability to work effectively with others on the job?

Note: This is actually one of the most important questions that can be asked of a candidate’s references. The ability to get along with others in a work setting is fundamental and critical to job success, and yet it is often overlooked! It doesn’t matter how talented, skilled, or highly trained the candidate is if he can’t get along with other people on the job. Therefore, this is a question the person doing the reference checking should listen to very closely. Some of the most egregious job mismatches can be traced to the inability of a new employee to work well with others on the job. Furthermore, the ability to get along with others also depends on the nature of the corporate or departmental culture; if that match isn’t there, the results can be disastrous!

  1. How would you describe first name’s management style on the job?

Note: This question (obviously) only applies to candidates applying for jobs with significant management responsibilities. If that’s not the case, just skip this question. On the other hand, if managing the time and activities of others is a critical part of the job, it’s vital that the candidate’s management style fits the people to be managed. If the current staff needs a hands-on manager, then finding someone who has a record of being an effective hands-on manager is essential. By asking the reference to describe the candidate’s management style, there really is no way for the reference to second-guess the desired management style. The way not to ask the question would be to say, “So-and-so’s a hands-on manager, isn’t he?”

  1. Can you describe first name’s communication skills (both verbal and written)?

Note: This is a far more important question than it might seem to be at first. Supervisors and managers have to be able to explain to others what’s required in language that’s straightforward and understandable. The ability to express oneself via e-mail or some other form of written communication is also essential to being an effective supervisor or manager. The truth of the matter is some of the brightest people simply cannot convey instructions in a manner that’s understandable to others. Usually, they’re thinking so far ahead of themselves that their attempts at clear communications come out muddled and disconnected and difficult to understand. Therefore, knowing how well a candidate for employment can clearly and understandably communicate is very important!

  1. What do you think first name could have done to produce even better results on the job?

Note: The observant reader will quickly note that this question is simply another way of asking Question 10. Despite that, the idea is to look for confirmation and consistency between these two questions. In addition, this version of the question will frequently provide elaboration of what was said earlier in response to Question 10. On the other hand, if the response here is contradictory to what was said in Question 10, now is the ideal time to tactfully ask why the two responses are different!

Conversely, the response to this question may provide useful insight into a potential area for improvement that the new employer can address before it becomes a problem that affects job performance. It’s always better to know about an issue upfront than to find out about it after it’s become a problem!

Notice that between questions 13 and 16 we gradually returned again to opinion-based questions. This is the point at which it makes very good sense to compare the comments of multiple references for consistency.