Reference Checks

Some time ago I gave a speech to group of HR people. At the end of my remarks, the following question was asked: “When I have to fire someone and that person asks me what I’m going to say if a prospective employer calls, what should I say?”

My answer was, “Tell the terminated employee that you’re just going to tell the truth.” To which came the following retort: “I’ve done that, and people just go ballistic when I tell them I’m going to be honest.”

If the reason the person left was the only question asked by a prospective employer, I could understand the employee’s concern. But the point is, responsible reference checking involves asking much more than just why someone left a job. And, in many instances, a termination isn’t necessarily reflective of job performance over time. My experience has been that careful reference checking will usually reveal patterns of on-the-job performance behavior. To put it another way, one termination doesn’t necessarily ruin a career! The important thing to remember when serving as a reference is to tell the whole story and tell it honestly.