Check Those References, The Right Way!

Checking references is a ritual that comes in two parts?laying out the playing field and starting the game. Both parts are important, and both deserve equal time and attention if you want the whole process to work. Part One: The Playing Field First, determine the reference’s relationship to the candidate. Ask for titles of both, numbers of years known, and their most recent contact. Then ask the reference about his or her current situation: company, title, length of employment, and scope of job (this gives you some idea of who you’re talking with). After that, ask questions to determine what the environment was like when the candidate and the reference worked together: the pace, standards of performance, quality of the people involved. Finally, ask the reference frankly how tough a rater they are, and the basis of their rating system. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Part Two: The Game: Qualifying The Candidate Here are some key questions to ask:

  • “Can you give me a summary of what you see as the candidates strengths ? and weaknesses?”
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  • “Do any examples of his accomplishments to support those major strengths stand out in your mind?”
  • “How would you say do the weaknesses affected job performance?”
  • “Can you give me some examples of initiative?”
  • “How would you rank this person as a manager?”
  • “What was her most impressive management accomplishment?”
  • “How strong was this person in building or developing teams?”
  • “How would you rank this person’s overall technical competence in his job specific area?”
  • “Is technical competence a real strength? What makes you say that?”
  • “How strong are the candidate’s verbal and written communications skills? How were these measured?”
  • “How well does he handle pressure or criticism? Any particular incidents that you recall?”
  • “How strong a decision-maker is she? Can you give me some examples and how they were made?”
  • “Can you give me an example of the candidate’s commitment?”
  • “What’s one single area do you think the candidate could change in order to be more effective?”
  • “Would you rehire this candidate? Why?or why not?”
  • “How would you rank this person’s character and personal values system? How did this affect his performance?”
  • “How would you compare this candidate to others you know at the same level? Why is the candidate stronger (or weaker)?”
  • “What about potential? How far can this person go? Why?”
  • “How would you rank this candidate’s overall performance on a scale of 0-10?”
  • “What would it take to move her up 1 point?”

All good candidates have good references: the best candidates have the best references. That’s why it’s vital to always get specific examples to substantiate generalities. If at all possible, question a candidate’s subordinates, peers, and superiors with equal intensity. Be skeptical until proven otherwise. Be on the lookout for fatal flaws and extremes in behavior. Let the games begin!

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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