When recruiting, people quite often say “Why would I bother doing a reference check? Nobody ever gives a bad reference.”
You’ll be surprised what a referee will tell you if you know what questions to ask.
If you ask the right questions, you can get information that will assist you in making a good recruitment decision. These questions can be “scenario based” questions. Or think about asking questions that are specific to the skills and knowledge required of the person. You can also ask questions that will give you a good idea of whether the candidate will be a good fit for your business in relation to values and culture.
You’ll receive some applications and resumes from candidates that are, unfortunately, not completely truthful. Also applicants that perform really well at interview don’t always live up to their claims once they’re employed. But if you ask good questions when you are contacting referees, this can quite often be the piece of the puzzle that is most valuable and reliable.
There are standard questions that you can ask, like:
- When did the person work for the referee’s business
- What was the applicant’s job title
- Details about the level of job and responsibilities
- Aspects of job performance, e.g. work quality, safety record
- Attendance/absenteeism, promptness, relationships with other staff and customers
- whether the previous employer would re-employ him/her, and why.
Customising the reference check for each individual position that you are recruiting for can be valuable. Prepare some behaviour-based or situation-based questions to find out how the applicant has behaved in certain circumstances and different types of work situations. These questions could be very similar to the questions you have already asked the applicant during his/her interview. This is a great way to check whether the applicant’s response was an accurate reflection of their ability or what happened in a particular situation.
Ask questions about:
- behaviour when under pressure
- use of initiative
- dealing with difficult customers
- project management skills
- managing multiple projects and deadlines
- meeting deadlines
- persuading other people
- management style
- listening skills
- dealing with workplace conflict
- delegation skills and/or seeking help from others
- team work
- quality of work
- how they get on with colleagues/clients/customers/managers
An example of how to ask a situation based or scenario based question is:
- Can you provide an example of when the candidate had to deal with a difficult colleague, What did they do?, What happened then?, What was the outcome?
- Can you provide an example of when the candidate made a mistake? Did they take ownership of the issue? Can you give me some details of the situation and how they handled it? What was the outcome?
Don’t ask too many questions, you don’t want to take up too much of the referee’s time. Their time is valuable and they are doing you a favour by providing the information.
You could consider giving the referee an opportunity to receive the questions by email to prepare for the call.
Make sure that you don’t ask any discriminatory questions. For example, asking questions about the applicant’s family or personal life is not appropriate.
Reference and qualifications checking is just one step of the recruitment and selection process, albeit one of the most important ones.
It may also be relevant to do a criminal record check or a Working With Children check, depending on the role you are recruiting for.
You may also want to consider skills testing or psychometric testing to assist you in making a decision.
We have a Reference Check template that you can use, download it here:
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