Background Checks

Now that we’ve established a solid foundation for continuing your conversation with a reference, let’s move on to more sample questions that will begin to probe job performance.

  1. “What were (first name of candidate) primary responsibilities on the job?”

Rationale: This question serves two purposes.  The first is that it will provide confirmation of the job description on the candidate’s resume or job application.  Second, it provides a chance for you to get a much better picture of what the candidate was really being, as we say, paid to do.  It’s a chance to flesh out the scope of the responsibilities the candidate had – beyond the brief description usually found on resumes and job applications.

  1. “How would you describe the overall quality of his job performance?”

Rationale:  Now we’re getting down to the real substance of a reference report!  Here’s where it becomes essential to listen to the reference’s tone of voice, inflection, and to pay attention to how long it takes the reference to reply.  For example, there’s all the difference in the world between hearing a reference say, “He did… pretty good” and “He did PRETTY good!”  Now’s the time when you say, “Could you give me a couple of examples that might illustrate the quality of his performance?”  Obviously, if the reference can’t think of any examples, doubt has to be cast on how well the candidate really did perform.  On the other hand, if the reference can rattle off a list of achievements that clearly show that the candidate did very well, then you can be confident that his performance really was PRETTY good.  By the same token, if the reference raves about the candidate’s performance along the lines of, “I’ve never worked for anybody who did a more outstanding job than he did” or “I learned so much from him, in terms of doing my job more efficiently” or any other laudatory comments – without a moment’s hesitation – then you can be confident that the candidate’s performance was outstanding.  However, if the reference has to struggle to come up with examples of good performance, or sounds lukewarm about the candidate’s performance or begins to equivocate, then, again, some doubt must be cast on the quality of the candidate’s performance.

These two very important questions really evolve from final validation of the relationship between the candidate and reference to beginning to discuss actual performance on the job.  Next time, we’ll discuss more specific aspects of job performance and things like attitude on the job.