Reference Checks

These last two questions are in last place for a very good reason: They’re very important, but they’re also touchy. By this time in the conversation, the reference should feel comfortable and believe that you really are simply trying to make the best hire possible. Personally, I think its fine to begin by saying something like, “These last couple of questions are a little awkward, but…”

  1. Are you aware of any personal problems that could interfere with first name’s ability to do the job for a prospective employer?

Note: The only way to bring up personal problems is within the context of their possible impact on job performance. Otherwise a personal problem is none of a prospective employer’s business! If, for example, the candidate’s marital problems cause him to take out his frustration and anger on employees, or to be chronically late for work, or whatever, then the prospective employer needs to know that. On one occasion, the reply to the same question was, “What sort of personal problems?” My response was, “Anything that you think could affect his job performance?” The reply was, “Oh, you mean like his drinking problem?” Well, I wasn’t expecting that blunt a response, but it helped avoid a possibly serious hiring mistake. Here’s the point to remember: What people do on their own time is none of the employer’s business unless it adversely affects his ability to do the job.

  1. In conclusion, is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?

Note: This final question is sort of a totally open-ended question which gives the reference the opportunity to add anything else, positive or negative, about the candidate. Most of the time the response is along these lines, “We’ve talked just about everything. I’ve never had anyone ask me that many questions during a reference call!” I take that as a compliment. Some of the time an additional piece of information comes up that’s totally unexpected. For example, after giving the candidate a truly glowing reference regarding every aspect of job performance, the reference asked me, “Do you know where I can find [so-and-so]?” Naturally, I didn’t; but asked the reference why. “Because when he left he stole my truck and the sheriff’s looking for him.” Surprise!

Obviously, good judgment and discretion needs to be used with this last question. If a reference offers up something that has nothing to do with job performance or the ability to do the job, I recommend ignoring it and certainly would never suggest allowing whatever was disclosed, regardless of what it was, to ever be a factor in making a hiring decision.