Once you have found the ideal candidate, prepare questions to ask when checking references. The importance of checking references cannot be understated. This series reviews areas you must cover to confidently extend an offer to a candidate.
Job candidates always try to provide you with the best appearance. A reference check ensures their work history matches what you like about their interviewing skills.
When you prepare questions to ask when checking references, it is a good idea to think of the information you prefer to know about the candidate or specific information relevant to your company or position.
Keep in mind that there are protected classes and questions about identifiers such as race, sex, age, religion etc. cannot be asked. Beyond those restrictions, ask away!
Q: Can you verify the candidate’s job title, pay, and responsibilities?
This question is a good starting point. Not only do you ensure you are both speaking about the same individual, it’s a good opener to help begin your conversation. This question also gives you context for the reference and how well he or she knows the candidate.
If you speak with an HR manager who rarely or never met the candidate, you quickly know the level of detail to expect.
Q: Why did the candidate leave your company?
As you prepare questions to ask when checking references, inquire why your candidate left this position. Get a feel for whether it was under positive circumstances. If the reference does not directly disclose why the candidate left, you may draw some conclusions.
People leave for all sorts of reasons. Was the candidate fired? Was he or she part of a downsizing? Asked to resign? Did the candidate leave on good terms? Be advised, however, company policy may limit your reference’s ability to go into detail.
Q: What makes the candidate a good fit for this position?
Knowing more about the candidate’s personality may predict how he or she potentially fits in with your company. After you explain the position he or she applied for, ask the reference how the candidate’s skills meet the needs of the position.
This question opens up the reference to provide insight into the candidate’s personality, skills, drive, work ethic, etc. With open questions such as this one, you often learn important information. This topic speaks to culture fit, retention, promotability, emotional intelligence, and other soft skills.
Q: If given the opportunity, is your company willing to rehire this candidate?
This question is key when deciding which questions to ask when checking references. Potential employers expect a reference to be open to, and excited about, rehiring a candidate. These are the people you want to hire.
If the reference is unclear or negative, follow up with “Why?” or “Please elaborate?” The information you gather from this question is invaluable, especially if you have several different candidates you like for the same position.
In many ways, this is an opportunity for a reference to relay if a former employee left under negative circumstances. As mentioned earlier, corporate policy often prohibits HR managers from getting detailed in these answers.
However, a simple response indicating the company would decline from rehiring the individual suggests the employee did not leave by choice. A reference who worked closely with the candidate, however, may give a different type of answer. Experience often helps here, in being able to “decode,” these responses.
Remember, as you collect questions to ask when checking references,
- make sure you have a solid list before you make your first call
- do not ask questions about protected classes, and
- always leave the questions open for the reference to provide as much information as possible.
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