Learn a simple and quick technique that maximizes the quality and quantity of information that you get from job applicant references.
Tips for Checking References
If you’ve ever had to check references on an applicant, you probably already know how much of a hassle it can be and just as important how unproductive it can be as well. Either the person on the other end doesn’t want to talk to you, doesn’t have the time or is severely limited in what she can say about past employees due to restrictions from the legal department.
For example, have you ever called to check on a reference and asked the person on the other end,
“How was Mary Smith when she worked for you?”
And they give you a lukewarm response after hemming and hawing for a second or two like:
“Ummm… She was ok, she was alright. She was a good employee.”
Well, unfortunately, that basically tells you absolutely nothing and was essentially a huge waste of your time. You’re no closer to knowing if Mary will be a good hire for you or not.
Here’s a tip on how you can hire better employees and get more out of the time you spend checking references. By making small tweaks to the questions you ask references, you can extract a lot more information out of them and better assess if the applicant will be good hire or not.
General questions like, “How was Mary Smith when she worked for you?” tend to generate canned responses and that’s obviously not what you’re looking for so instead consider asking more specific questions. More specific and detailed questions also tend to take people out of “canned response” mode since they have to think about the question to answer it and now you’re getting closer to the type of information you need to make a good assessment on an applicant.
So instead of a vague and general question, consider asking something like: “Compared to Mary’s peers, describe to me Mary’s ability to deal with change?” Now this is a pretty specific question that you’re going to get an answer to one way or the other. The key now is to listen attentively to both the response and how they respond. Often, it’s not what a reference tells you but how they say it and what they don’t tell you that’s more important.
And the key to getting the most out of references is asking the right questions.
“What are the right questions?”
Check out my post and video on How to Define Job Expectations. You should already know which key skills, characteristics and traits will make for an ideal employee… The right question is any question which elicits a response from the reference and helps you determine whether or not the applicant has the key skills you’re looking for.