Now we’re coming into an area where the questions are a little more objective, but not totally!  I intentionally bounce back and forth between objective and subjective questions so the reference doesn’t get the impression that I’m just asking questions that require the reference to just express his opinion and becomes uncomfortable with the tone of the questions.  By this point in the conversation, however, the reference should be reasonably at ease with what’s going on.  I prefer to keep him that way, if at all possible.

  •  “How would you describe the candidate’s overall ability to work effectively with others on the job?”

Rationale: Working effectively with others is a critical skill for nearly every employee in any organization.  If it’s a problem for the candidate to get along with others, that could be a major red flag!  Keeping in mind, also, that the idea is to match a candidate to the requirements of the job, it’s conceivable that getting along with other employees isn’t an important skill set requirement.  But those occasions are few and far between.  The usefulness of this question is enhanced by listening carefully to what the reference says – and how he says it!  Any hesitation or equivocation by the reference should be followed up with appropriate questions to try and find out why.

  •   “How would you describe the candidate’s management style?”

Rationale: This question should only be asked, obviously, if the job to be filled requires the management of the time and activities of others on the job.  Like the previous question, however, it’s a vitally important question.  The stories are almost endless about employers hiring a hands-on manager, for instance, when a manager who could delegate effectively should have been hired; or hiring a no-nonsense manager when a more laid-back one was needed; and on and on.  That’s why it’s so important to know what type of management style the job requires and what the candidate’s management style is before the hiring decision is made!  This is one of those instances where getting the match right couldn’t be more important!