The following blog is adapted from an article I wrote for an employment website some time ago, and the advice is still solid.
Simple background checks to ensure candidates haven’t lied on their resumes or job applications aren’t enough. They are just a first step, with the second, more important, step being to ensure that candidates can do what they claim to be able to do. In other words, careful job-performance-based reference checking is vital to the employee selection process.
Probing with Questions
Once a reference is on the phone, the first question should be, “How are you acquainted with the candidate?” The answer to this question will provide illumination in two important areas.
It will confirm when, where and whether or not the reference and the candidate have ever worked together.
It should also offer insight into the nature of their association.
- Did the reference work for the candidate or the other way around, or were they co-workers?
- Did they work together on a daily basis or just once in a while? The answer to this critical question will allow the reference checker to determine how much weight to give responses to subsequent inquiries.
The next question should be, “How long did you and the candidate work together?” Once again, the length of association will help establish the credibility of the reference’s responses to later questions. If the reference worked with the candidate for several years, the responses will carry more weight than if the length of association was a few months or less.
After that, it’s important to ask the reference to describe the candidate’s day-to-day responsibilities on the job. At this point, the reference checker should be comparing the candidate’s resume with what the references say. It’s a clear red flag if the reference can’t describe what the candidate’s job responsibilities were with some degree of thoroughness. It might indicate that the reference wasn’t as familiar with the job seeker and his/her work as the candidate suggested.
Of course, it is also possible that the reference is restricted from describing job duties and other aspects of the job. To see if this is the case, simply ask the reference if company policies or other concerns limit the completeness of their responses.