During the hiring process, a hiring manager will often reach out to a candidate’s previous employer to learn more about the candidate. This helps the hiring manager make a more informed decision about that candidate. After all, candidates can write anything on their resumes and practice dazzling answers to interview questions, but honest references from a previous employer will provide a clearer view of what that candidate is really like to work with.
Hiring managers typically reach out to references after the first interview, but before either scheduling a second one or making a job offer. Ideally, they will speak to someone who supervised the candidate, and thus can offer a clear and informed critique of the candidate’s performance.
Reference check questions are, as the name suggests, the specific questions the hiring manager will ask the reference about the candidate. So anytime you’re getting ready to interview promising candidates would be a good time to study up on the right reference check questions to ask, especially if you’re new to hiring.
It also wouldn’t hurt to understand reference check questions as a job candidate, either, especially if you’re not quite ready to leave your current job yet. Knowing what kinds of questions a prospective boss or hiring manager might ask your current supervisor about you can help guide and inform your performance.
Why Do Reference Check Questions Matter?
Reference check questions are important to uncover positive and/or negative tendencies a candidate has likely left off his or her resume. It’s an important part of the hiring process because it gives a hiring manager a much clearer picture of the candidate. Many times, a reference check confirms a hiring manager’s optimism for a candidate…and when it doesn’t, it usually saves that manager from making a problematic hire.
What Does Success Look Like?
A reference check is successful when a hiring manager knows significantly more about a candidate and his or her abilities after the questioning process. The hiring manager aims to learn things about the candidate like strengths and weaknesses, personality traits, work ethic, teamwork capabilities, and dependability.
Successful reference check questions raise the quality of a company’s interview process. It gives it a better understanding of candidates and results in more informed decision-making. An example is when three candidates have identical credentials and interview quality. If one has significantly better reference feedback, it will make a hiring manager’s job much easier.
Successful reference check questions weed out bad candidates. Strategic questions uncover red flags, unreliability, and poor teamwork. This is essential for building a company culture with employees who reflect its values. Failure to ask proper screening questions can fill a company with bad apples.
A successful reference check can save a company money. Candidates can bend the truth on their resumes to secure a job. Reference checks eliminate candidates who are unqualified, require enhanced supervision, or miss deadlines. In the long run, it allows teams to run more smoothly. It prevents managers from developing regrets about employees hired.
Successful reference check questions also help the onboarding process. Hiring managers gain a better understanding of what to expect from a new employee. Targeted questions can uncover exactly where a candidate thrives and struggles with. This allows the manager to anticipate what kind of help a candidate will need once hired.
Failing to conduct a reference check can be an enormous mistake. A large company on the East Coast learned this the hard way. It needed to hire a new employee to handle its overseas operations. The HR manager mistakenly believed he could make an educated hiring decision based only on a candidate’s interview and resume. This was a costly mistake.
After a few months, it became clear that this employee had no idea what he was doing. This prompted the HR manager to do a background and reference check. It turns out that the employee lied about everything on his resume. He had no experience in a similar position and was untruthful in his interview. This cost the company an estimated $150,000.
This is an unfortunate example of a company who did not ask any reference check questions, let alone successful ones. In addition to the financial loss, it cost the company months of progress in its overseas operations. One phone call to a former employer would have saved all this trouble.
One Secret Weapon For Asking The Right Reference Check Questions
Asking the right reference questions, taking note of their answers, and keeping them organized for all your candidates can be challenging. There are software tools that can help with this. BambooHR keeps track of the applicants you’re reaching out to and their data.
It’s a secret weapon hiring managers use to stay organized with reference checking along with the entire hiring and onboarding process. Along with organization, it lets users send offer letters, collect signatures, and recruit as a team. Its applicant tracking system (ATS) is what keeps people organized while they focus on the personal side of the hiring process.
5 Essential Strategies For Reference Check Questioning
Pick Up The Phone
When conducting a reference check, it’s generally better to call instead of sending an email or automated message. A phone call creates a more fluid discussion. Typed messages can be misinterpreted, and sub communication is nonexistent.
When speaking to a reference over the phone, you can hear his or her tone, ask to elaborate on answers, and have a more informative conversation.
Ask the candidate to send you the reference’s name, email address, and phone number. Next, send the reference an email introducing yourself, explaining why you’re reaching out, and asking to set up a phone call. Make sure to include the amount of time you need for your conversations. Reference check questioning should not take more than 30 minutes to an hour.
Because you scheduled a phone call, you’re likely to receive much more informative answers than if you had asked them via email. Think about it. If you received an email asking 10 questions, how would you answer them? Most references are busy and would type short answers to quickly get it over with.
While not everyone uses the phone for reference checking, it’s a difference maker. Questioning over the phone is different because it’s an actual conversation. The reference knows a specific amount of time is blocked off. He or she is more likely to answer questions in greater detail and can answer follow up questions if needed.
Verify Candidate History and Reference Validity
Candidates can stretch the truth on their resumes. This includes details on certifications received, dates worked, and positions held. It always pays off to ask a reference if a candidate’s resume is correct. If you always take a candidate’s word for it, you free yourself up to be taken advantage of. Verifying a candidate’s history prevents costly hiring mistakes.
When speaking to a reference, it helps to send him or her a copy of the candidate’s resume. Therefore, he or she can confirm that the dates, position title, and duties are accurate. If the candidate says he or she has a particular skill in the interview, verify this with the reference. Have him or her confirm a candidate’s certifications as well.
It’s also important to verify the validity of the reference you’re talking to. A candidate’s reference should be a current or previous supervisor. Candidates will sometimes refer potential employers to peers or people they did not directly work with. The candidate knows this reference will put in a good word, so he or she may choose a friend at the office.
This is bad for a hiring manager who’s trying to get honest feedback about the candidate. Make sure the reference supervised and worked with the candidate daily. If you fail to do this, you may have a friendly reference telling you everything you want to hear. A supervisor is more likely to give you accurate and unbiased information.
Ask Detailed, Open-Ended Questions
Always ask open-ended questions during your reference check. Add as much detail as possible. The added details in your questions will make them more specific and targeted. These two factors will cause a reference to give you more information than simple “yes” or “no” answers.
An example of a closed-ended question is “Did ____ meet deadlines?”. While a “yes” or “no” answer here can help, there’s a better way to ask this question. “How did ____ manage the responsibility of consistent deadlines?” You are likely to gain a much better understanding of the candidate’s deadline capabilities from the second question than the first.
If you’re unsure, simply add the word “how” to the beginning of your question. “How did ____ handle teammate interactions during stressful situations?” “How would you describe ____’s performance in communicating over the phone?” “How did you and ____ work together on a daily basis?” These are excellent examples of detailed, open-ended reference check questions.
Be ready to take notes. You’ll know you’ve asked an effective question when a reference gives you way more information than you need. Following up on a great question can be beneficial if you need more details. By making minor tweaks to your questions, you can cause major changes in the quality of your received answers.
Focus on Personality Too
Because this is a work-related conversation, it can be tempting to only ask a reference about a candidate’s professional capabilities. Learning more about the candidate’s personality is equally as important. A candidate with an uplifting personality can increase a team’s morale, while the opposite can be detrimental.
“How did ____ get along with coworkers?” “How did ____ respond to your criticism?” “When a peer was promoted, how did ____ respond?” Personal questions like these will dig deep into the personality tendencies of a candidate. You want to hire a candidate who congratulates teammates, gets along with coworkers, and handles criticism professionally.
Imagine if those answers had been, “____ did not get along with many coworkers.”, “____ reacted poorly to criticism through defensiveness and passive aggression.”, “____ became jealous when peers were promoted.” These are enormous red flags. A candidate could be excellent at his or her job but have poor personality and teamwork traits.
A less qualified candidate with a positive attitude and willingness to learn can be a great asset. An overqualified candidate with a negative attitude and lack of ambition can be a wasted hire. It’s helpful to reread your company’s values before questioning a reference. Ask yourself, “What kind of person do I want to hire for this role?”.
A resume is created to show a candidate’s highlights to employers. It includes sections for experience, skills, achievements, certifications, education, and community service. Do you know what you hardly ever see on a resume? A list of weaknesses. Sometimes it’s hard for candidates to know their weaknesses, even when you ask them in an interview.
Questioning a reference is the best way to uncover a candidate’s weaknesses. This is important because you need to know what to expect from a potential hire. You can use weaknesses to determine which candidate is the better hire. It helps with the training process because you can dedicate additional time to training a new hire on his or her weaknesses.
There is a strategic way to ask about weaknesses. You want the reference’s honest opinion, even if he or she has a good relationship with the candidate. Therefore, you must mention that the reference check conversation is confidential. This eliminates the reference’s fear of potential backlash from the candidate.
Once you establish confidentiality, you can begin your questioning. A simple question like, “What is an area ____ can improve on?” is perfect. Asking a question like this will give you a better idea of what the candidate needs to improve on.
Most Common Mistakes of Reference Check Questions
There are plenty of mistakes to avoid when asking reference check questions. Here are four of the most common and most glaring:
- Having someone else check the reference: Outsourcing your reference checking, even to your own assistant, can be a bad idea because you can miss out on crucial details that only you would notice. Ensuring you’re on the call is the best way to gain the necessary candidate information.
- Not double-checking employment dates: Candidates can stretch the truth about how long they worked at a company. Make sure the reference you’re speaking to confirms the correct dates on the candidate’s resume.
- Not telling the candidate there will be reference checking up front: Some candidates will drop out because of the reference check. By failing to mention this up front, you can waste time interviewing candidates who are unable to provide you with references, or whose references would reveal their shortcomings or deceptions.
- Not taking notes: It can be tempting to believe you’ll remember everything you and a reference spoke about over the phone. It’s important to take notes just in case, especially if speaking with references of more than one candidate.
Properly asking reference check questions is a crucial part of the hiring process. You now have a better understanding of the best ways to do this. This guide will help you successfully obtain the candidate knowledge needed to make educated hiring decisions.