These next couple of questions address one new skill that is vitally important, and another that is essentially another version of an earlier question, to examine whether or not the responses to both are consistent.  It’s important to understand that these questions are not designed to “trick” a reference, but rather to help the prospective employer make the best hiring decision possible.  (After all, that’s what this whole exercise is about!)

  1. “Can you describe his communication skills, (Both written and verbal)?”

Rationale: The rationale here is very obvious and essentially straightforward.  How well a new employee can express himself to a group of co-workers is very important, regardless of where the new employee fits on the company’s organization chart.  Being able to stand up in front of a group and, formally or informally, convey information to others is critical.  By the same token, passing along important information via e-mail, text, or even by a written memo carries the same importance, in terms of the information that needs to be conveyed, as being able to stand up and essentially give a short speech about what needs to be done, or whatever the message happens to be.  Put another way, it really doesn’t matter how smart an employee is if he can’t explain to others what he’s doing or what needs to be done!

  1. “What do you think he could have done to produce even better results on the job than he did?”

Rationale: Does this question sound a little like the earlier question about areas in which candidate could have improved?  Well, frankly, it is intended to illicit the same sort of information from the reference.  If there is a correlation between the responses, then you can be confident that you’re getting an honest response to a very important inquiry.  If there is no correlation between the two questions then you may have uncovered an entirely different area of concern that might cause another red flag to go up.  Only once in my career has a reference said, “You asked me that before.”  The point, however, is, again, that none of us is perfect and all of us have weaknesses – areas in which we could improve, stated another way.  Finally, it’s worth pointing out that this line of questions isn’t about screening out candidates for employment (although that clearly could happen); it’s about knowing, before the hiring decision, in what areas the candidate could benefit from extra help or guidance.