Another common problem of reference checking is dealing with a young person just out of school who has never had a full-time job. The problem can be easily handled, but the focus of the reference checking exercise is just a little different. Instead of talking about past jobs, the emphasis shifts toward talking about job performance potential.
Instead of talking to references who have actually worked with this type of candidate, there are several ideal sources for other references: a major professor, a faculty advisor, a club or organization sponsor, someone with whom the student worked as a part of a campus or community activity, someone for whom the student worked as an intern, or even someone for whom the student worked during a summer job. Any combination of the above could be references for a graduating student.
The way the focus shifts is how some of the questions are asked; part of them, for example, go from being asked in past tense to future tense. For instance, instead of asking, “How did so-and-so get along with others?” the question becomes, “How do you think so-and-so will get along with others in a work setting?”
Many of the usual reference-checking questions remain the same, however. Asking about job performance as a student suggests things like class participation, attendance, getting work in on time, and, to be candid, academic ability. Also, follow-up questions can be asked. For instance, a professor/reference could be asked how he thinks the student will perform in a specific position. The responses are obviously speculative in nature, but speculation is usually based on information the reference has gathered by direct observation of the student – and, after one has talked to three references, a good sense of how the student is likely to perform can be obtained.
While the speculative nature of this type of reference checking is slightly different, its adequacy should be more than sufficient to make a good hiring decision. After all, the student just out of school isn’t ordinarily being considered for a senior-level position anyway!