Reference Checks

These last few questions help to wrap up any lose ends and also allow one final check to see if there are undisclosed issues about which the prospective employer should be concerned!

  1. “If you were hiring people, would you hire the candidate and, if so, what do you think would be the ideal job for him?”

Rationale:  It seems natural to expect the reference to say that he’d hire the candidate for a job like the one he previously had—or the one he’s applying for—but that’s not always the case!  I recall performing a reference check on a candidate for a design engineering position (which, by the way, is the job he held when he and the reference worked together).  Up to this point in the conversation, all the comments were generally positive.

However, when I asked the reference if he’d hire the candidate again, and what the ideal position for him would be, the answer was, “Sure, I’d hire him again—as a janitor because he was a terrible design engineer.”  Prior to this response, the reference had been a little guarded in his comments but they were still positive. By the time we were approaching the end of the call, he offered a comment that was a major red flag!

  1. “Are you aware of any personal problems that could affect the candidate’s ability to do the job for a prospective employer?”

Rationale:  Despite any misgivings about this question, it’s still acceptable because it’s asked within the context of job performance.  Most of the time the answer is just a simple “No.” Nevertheless, there are other times you’ll get a response like, “You mean because of his drinking problem?” Or, “Oh, do you mean the pending sexual harassment suit?” Or, “No, except for the multiple times he’s been late for work.”  You never know what sort of response this question will illicit, and that’s why it is so important to ask!

  1. “Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?”

Rationale: This is absolutely the last question to ask a reference! Just like the previous question, you never know what a reference might say.  Sometimes it’s a glowing endorsement of the candidate’s ability, and sometimes it’s not!  And, because there are so many possible responses, this question is very important to ask as the conversation comes to an end!

NOTE:  As the conversation wraps up, it’s essential to thank the person profusely for taking the time and trouble to serve as a reference for the candidate.