9 Critical Questions To Ask A Candidate’s Professional Reference

A reference check is one of the most important steps in the recruitment process. It can provide invaluable insights about the candidate’s suitability for the position. Ultimately, it can save you from the frustration of having to hire the wrong person.

For a reference check to be useful, it needs to yield information which can guide a hiring decision. To yield such information, the check has to be carried out with thoroughness, tact and precision. It isn’t enough to simply confirm if the reference knows the candidate. There are certain critical aspects about the candidate’s past performance, behavior and aptitude which can be unearthed during a reference check.

The first step towards yielding useful information is by knowing the right questions to ask. Now, there is an endless list of questions which you can ask a candidate’s professional reference. However, in order to yield actionable information, the following 9 questions cannot miss out among them.

1.  What is your relationship with the candidate?

This is perhaps the most important question of all. It can determine how you judge the rest of the information supplied by the reference. Ideally, the relationship should be professional. A reliable reference should be a former work mate, preferably a supervisor or boss.

If the relationship is personal, then it will be difficult to gain any useful work-related information. A simple rule of thumb in HR circles is to simply stay away from personal references. If the candidate cannot offer you a professional reference, then that should tell you something about them.

2.  How long did you work with the candidate?

This is also important. The longer the period of time the reference spent working with the candidate, the richer the information they can give you. Although there are no fixed rules on work periods, someone who worked with the candidate for years can certainly provide more insights than someone who worked with them for weeks.

3. What were the candidate’s job title, roles and responsibilities?

The goal of this question is to confirm what the candidate wrote in their resume. It is no secret that some candidates exaggerate their resumes in order to gain a competitive edge. The answer to this question can give enable you to accurately assess the candidate’s resume.

If the candidate held more than one job title, probe to find out the exact periods they held different titles. See if they match with what the candidate wrote in their resume.

It is important though to keep in mind that human memory can be fickle. As such, leave room for memory lapses; especially some years have passed since the work relationship. However, any significant discrepancies between what the reference says and what the candidate wrote in their resume should raise red flags.

4. How would you describe the candidate’s performance?

This is where the rubber meets the road. Candidates sometimes make bold claims on their resumes. Asking this question can provide a rough idea of the candidate’s actual performance.

For this question, it may be necessary to probe for specific answers. Don’t accept generic answers like “He was great” or “She was terrific”. Ask for specific instances where the candidate’s performance merited such descriptions.

5. How did the candidate relate to bosses, co-workers and clients?

This is perhaps one of the most important questions to ask. It can give you valuable insights of how the candidates relates with others. Again, don’t ask accept generic answers. Ask for specific instances which illustrate the candidate’s relationship.

You may also want to ask follow-up questions like: was the candidate easy/difficult to work with? How did the she handle conflict? How did she react to criticism? Basically, try to unearth information which can give you a clearer picture of the candidate’s relationships with people.

6. How did the candidate leave the position?reference questions

The answer to this question can be both illuminating and insightful. It can tell you something about the candidate’s employment history. It can also give you insights about how long the candidate may stay with the company.

7. What would you say are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?

This is one very important question. It can provide you with great insights about the candidate’s suitability for the current position. It can help you to assess whether the candidate has the aptitude to adapt and excel in the current position.

8. Barring company policies, would you rehire the candidate again?

The answer to this question is a perfect summary to the background check. In fact, if you are to ask only one question, let it be this. It is important that this question comes towards the end of the conversation. It can provide the perfect lens with which to judge all the previous answers.

For instance, if the reference is full of praise for the candidate’s track record, performance and strengths, but won’t rehire her, that should inform you that something is amiss. Either way, make sure that you drill down to find the reason why they would or would not rehire the candidate.

9. Is there anything else that I need to know before I hire the candidate?

This question can unearth specific details which weren’t captured in the previous questions. It provides an opportunity for the reference to volunteer any information which they feel is important for you to know.

For instance, if disciplinary problems were not covered, the reference may inform you that the about the candidate’s appalling disciplinary record. Alternatively, they can inform you about something positive – like the candidate’s excellent punctuality.

Ultimately, hiring the wrong person is one of the worst mistakes a company can make. According to a 2013 CarrierBuilder survey, a wrong hiring decision can cost a business up to $50,000. If you are the person doing the hiring, a wrong hire can seriously dent your credibility. As such, you have to absolutely get it right.

A thorough reference check can greatly improve your chances of making the right hire. It all comes down to asking the right question. Above are the 9 critical questions to ask professional reference check. The answers to these questions can provide you with valuable information on which to base your hiring decision. In the end, they can help you to identify the right candidate for the job.

Therefore, next time you have to perform a background check on a candidate, simply call up their professional references and ask them the above questions. By the end of the call, you will have a fairly rough idea whether the candidate is even worth consideration for the position. Happy Hiring!

This post was written by Brett McIntyre, at Crimcheck.