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From: David E. Edell, President

Date: January 24, 2005


DRG is a national Executive Recruitment Firm working exclusively within the Nonprofit sector. Learn about DRG's services, resources, recruitment strategies and current search assignments at our website www.drgnyc.com

Ten Critical Questions To Ask When

Checking References

By Miriam W. Berger

Reprinted by Permission.

Do you check references before hiring new employees? If your company is like most, the answer is "No." Caveat Emptor! Buyer Beware! Some job candidates who are eagerly vying for a limited number of jobs in this recession-plagued economy may knowingly exaggerate their credentials and experience in an effort to stand out above their competition.

Reference checking will also give you added assurance that the intuitive sense that you have about a candidate's abilities to successfully perform in the position is well-founded.

Reference checking is absolutely essential to verify a candidate's background. Combined with proper interviewing techniques, reference checking should give you added assurance that the intuitive sense that you have about a candidate's abilities to successfully perform in the position is well-founded.

Checking a candidate's references should, at a minimum, involve a factual investigation of education and employment. When checking with educational institutions ask for the records department and provide the candidate's social security number. Simply request the year the candidate attended classes and the graduation date.

Verification of employment dates and job titles can be obtained by contacting the Human Resources department (or personnel director) of the previous employer(s). Don't expect Human Resources departments to provide much more information about the candidate other than what can be verified in the employment record.

References, based on a former employer's past perceptions of the candidate's performance, can also be used to predict how this person will perform for you.

Finding people who are actually willing to take time to thoughtfully answer questions based on their own experiences with the candidate is not always easy. Many have been advised by their personnel or legal departments to be spartan with comments that are subjective in nature. Try anyway! Sometimes what isn't said is enough said!

When you have determined a candidate to be well-qualified for your position, request a list of references from the candidate. This list should include the names of former supervisors, not friends or co-workers. Let the candidate know that you will be contacting his or her references.

Following is a list of Ten Critical Questions To Ask When Checking References.

Before you begin, modify and/or add to this list depending on your particular job opening. Make certain that all of your questions relate to the position for which you are hiring, and that you follow the same procedure for every candidate. In order to obtain an objective reference, try to keep your perceptions to yourself. Before implementing any hiring procedure, including reference checking, please consult with your attorney.

To begin, advise the person from whom the reference is sought of your objectives. In other words, identify yourself and your company. State that you are seriously considering the candidate for employment and that you would like to ask a few questions to validate your perceptions about the candidate's qualifications. Ask whether this is a good time to engage in a discussion or whether you should call back at a more convenient time. If the person is agreeable, proceed with your questions.

1. What were the responsibilities of the position the candidate had while working at your company?

This question will help you to compare and verify the position that the reference is describing, with the description that was given to you by the candidate.

Before asking the next question, offer the reference a brief but specific description of the position the candidate is being considered for. Focus on the three top-priority responsibilities to enable the reference to provide specific feedback on each.

2. Do you think the candidate is qualified to assume these responsibilities? Why or why not?

The reference will probably offer specific characteristics about the candidate that lead him/her to believe that the candidate could effectively assume the role. If the reference simply responds by affirming that, in his or her opinion, the candidate is qualified, probe by asking, "What specific qualities or personal characteristics cause you to feel this way?"

Prior to asking the next question, tell the reference that you will be responsible for managing and supporting this person in the position. You are, therefore, interested to know what management style the candidate responds best to. Then ask:

3. How would you describe your management style?

Again, probe to discover what specific management behaviors the candidate responds well to -- and compare differences in your management style from the one being described that may make a difference in how you interact with this employee.

4. How did the candidate perform with regard to________?

Whatever dimensions of job performance you feel are important should be inserted here. Questions relating to the quality of work, the ability to handle pressure or willingness to take the initiative or skill-related questions such as organizational or communication skills should be asked at this time.

5. Is this person a team player or does he or she excel by working alone?

Although teamwork is highly regarded by most companies, a person who is more independently directed may be what your position calls for. Determine, based on your assessment of the job, whether an interactive or independent work style is important for success -- and regardless of the answer, probe to determine whether the candidate demonstrated respect for other employees' contributions and a willingness to consider others' opinions.

6. What was the candidate's attendance record? Was the candidate on-time and dependable?

What is appropriate attendance at one company may be cause for dismissal at another. Be sensitive to extenuating circumstances that may have contributed to poor work attendance, such as illness or family problems. What you are attempting to determine by asking this question is whether this candidate assumed responsibility to show up for work and on time.

7. What areas of development were communicated to the candidate and how did he or she respond?

This question is a good way to get information regarding performance weaknesses that may not have otherwise been volunteered by the reference. Listen carefully as the reference describes how the candidate responded to performance improvement needs and direction.

8. What are the candidate's three strongest qualities?

You may have received various direct and indirect responses to this question but by asking it at the end of the conversation, you provide the reference with an opportunity to highlight the characteristics that stand out in terms of the candidate's past performance.

9. What was the candidate's reason for leaving the position?

This question should verify the reasons that the candidate provided for leaving his or her past job during the interview. The reason a candidate leaves a position can also help you in determining whether your position will give the candidate what he or she is looking for in a new position.

10. Would you rehire this candidate?

This final question is a defining one. Based upon the response and your evaluation of the other information provided by the reference, this will help you answer your most critical question,


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"Ten Critical Questions To Ask When Checking References" was originally published in Talking to The Boss, Today's Chicago Woman, Forum Magazine and other business periodicals.

Miriam W. Berger is President of A Hire Authority (www.ahireauthorityinc.com), a firm that has been providing hiring services for the past ten years to small and mid-sized companies. Ms. Berger served as Director of Human Resources in marketing, law and manufacturing industries for ten years, and as Manager of an Employment Agency for six years. A dynamic speaker, Ms. Berger has presented to organizations including The Alternative Board (TAB), President's Resource Organization (PRO) and the Women's Professional Sales Network (WPSN). A member of the Northern Illinois Society for Human Resource Management (NISHRM) and The Human Resource Management Association of Chicago (HRMAC) Ms. Berger can be reached at 847.405.9250 or at her e-mail address, Miriamwb@aol.com.


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