At this point, it’s time to start asking questions that are a little more subjective instead of objective.  Up to this point questions have been designed to make sure that the reference really is a legitimate work-related reference.  Now we’re beginning to move to questions that ask the reference to do a little more than just document facts.  We’re asking him to offer his honestly held opinion!

  1. “How productive do you think (first name of candidate) was on the job?”

Rationale:  This question is obviously more subjective than objective, although it can be some of both.  For instance, the reference could say that the candidate met all his quotas, or that he always accomplished tasks he was given on time and within budget.  Those are pretty objective responses.  On the other hand, the response might be more along the lines of, “He had a fair amount of idle time but, on he whole, I thought he was reasonably productive.”  The foregoing is a response that almost demands a follow-up question like, “If you had to rate his productivity on a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rank him?”  If the answer comes back that the reference would give the candidate a 5, then that might cause at least a small red flag to go up!

  1. “How would you describe his attitude on the job?”

Rationale:  This is a question that requires paying close attention to the response!  Attitude on the job is one of those soft skills that can make all the difference in how a candidate for employment integrates himself into a company’s existing corporate culture.  Although it goes without saying that someone who has a bad attitude, or is difficult to get along with, or takes a drill sergeant’s approach to people management is probably never a good choice.  Being able to get along with people in a work setting, someone who respects others, or someone who can work in a collegial way with others is probably a much better option.  When you hear that the candidate “is pretty demanding,” or “doesn’t tolerate anyone being insubordinate,” or “occasionally loses his temper with others,” an even bigger red flag should go up.  On the other hand, there are rare instances where a tough disciplinarian is exactly what’s needed to straighten out a non-functioning department – but those occasions are usually few and far between.

Next time we’ll get to questions that are even more subjective than these last two.