After understanding the dynamics of a candidate reference check (Part 1) and creating a strong foundation for a successful call (Part 2), you are now fully prepared to engage in a discussion to yield the greatest value for your hiring decision (Part 3). As you begin your call, a suggested approach:
At the onset of the conversation, let the reference know that you are the hiring manager and what your goals are for the call. This will set the tone for the call and put the reference on notice that this will not be a box-checking exercise.
In order to gain the most insight and ask effective questions, you need to know the context of the reference’s relationship with the candidate. This should be the first talk thread out of the gate. Is this reference a peer? Manager? Subordinate? How long they’ve known each other? How often did they work together? What was the context of their working interaction? Can this reference provide a relevant perspective with regard to this candidate? If not, ask the candidate to provide another that meets your requirements.
References are standing by to say good things about a candidate during a reference call. So allow them to get all the perfunctory praise off their chests upfront. To kick things off, ask two to three softball questions. Example: “What are Alex’s strengths?” “Do you think Alex is a team player?” “Is Alex a hard worker?” This will allow for greater comfort in opening up later when your questions are more nuanced.
The best questions are more nuanced-and tease out information rather than serve as blunt instruments. These are not are the standard inquiries like “Would you rehire this candidate?” or “Why did this candidate leave his/her job?”etc. They are nuanced questions that will elicit the “tells” you need. Also note: As you ask your questions and engage, don’t over share information about your culture and the qualities you seek-or the lead the reference to provide the answer you want. Keeping things slightly opaque will require the reference to answer the question more reliably rather than telling you what they think you want to hear. Below are a few examples of “smart” questions:
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