As noted previously, the following questions can be asked in any number of ways and can be modified to fit different situations or to fit the style of the person making the reference calls.
- If I were to ask other people who worked with first name, how do you think they would describe him on the job?
Note: This is probably the most subjective question because it calls not only for the reference to think about what others might say about the candidate, but also to put himself in their shoes in order to speculate on what they might say. Ordinarily you would expect the response to be very similar to what the reference has already said, but that isn’t always the case, and to the extent that sometimes it isn’t, the answer can be insightful and enlightening. Occasionally, a reference will decline to speculate on what others might say—and that’s OK. Just go on to the next question.
- What do you think first name needs to continue his/her own career development and professional growth?
Note: This question, while perfectly legitimate, puts something of a positive spin on the questions that are searching for weaknesses. As a matter of fact, the answer may be reflective of a previously mentioned weakness in some aspect of the candidate’s job performance. On the other hand, it may shed light on an entirely new area that will directly impact how well suited the candidate really is for the job to be filled. Regardless, whatever the insight gained from asking this question, it’s far better to know about a career development need or an area for professional growth before making a hiring decision than after it!
- Why do you think first name is looking for other employment opportunities?
Note: This is the first of a few concluding questions that may be the most important of all. Particularly important is making a close comparison to what all references say in response to this straightforward, non-threatening question. This is also the time to listen for hesitations, pauses, and any other uneasiness that might happen. If all three references offer the same response, then you can be confident that whatever they’ve said is true. If you get three totally different responses, then it’s probably time to probe a little deeper. Depending on the response, this is also the time to ask a follow-up question. For instance, if a reference says the candidate is looking for a new challenge, it would be natural to follow up with a second question like, “Why do you think that’s so?” Or a similar question that will shed more light on the motivation for seeking a career change.
- What were first name’s reasons for leaving?
Note: This is nothing more than a more direct way of asking the previous question! But it’s still a fair question into which any prospective employer would want insight. Again, looking for consistency among responses between references is also very important! In addition, this question can be asked in conjunction with the previous one, especially if the response to the previous question is vague or unclear. If the response to the previous isn’t solid, this question can be asked as follows: “Let me put it another way, what were first name’s reasons for leaving?” After all, the reasons for leaving may have nothing to do with the reasons for looking for other career opportunities. Not getting along with the boss is totally different from being ready for a fresh challenge!