Over the past decade or so, references have fallen out of favor. This is unfortunate, because they are the best indicator of potential success a company can receive about prospective candidates. References are not just a formality — they are necessary to ensure that you are making the best decision for your company. So how can you check references and get the details you really need? Here are the best questions you can ask:

  1. How do you know the candidate? Chances are your candidate provided you with a list of references. And of course, they are only going to provide you with individuals who will speak positively about them. So it is important to establish exactly how the reference knows, or worked with, your potential new hire. Discovering whether they were a supervisor or a co-worker will inform the types of questions you might ask.
  2. How long did you work together? Similarly, you want to find out the depth of their knowledge about working with the candidate. Did they work together for several years or only for a few months? This will help you determine the validity of the reference in terms of how they can best gauge the individual’s work performance.
  3. What improvements could the candidate make? These references were hand-selected because they would speak positively about the candidate. There is nothing wrong with that. But it does mean that you might want to rephrase some questions to get honest feedback. Suggested improvements are not a negative thing, and they might help you determine whether the candidate is a good fit.
  4. Why did the candidate leave? Yes, you probably won’t find a reference who will tell you that the candidate was fired, but what this person does say may be indicative of the way the former employee left the company. You might get a sense that they were restless or that they weren’t a fit within the organization. These can all help you determine their appropriateness for your company.
  5. Would you hire them again? Finally, the most important question you can ask is whether or not the employee would be rehired by their former employer. Keep in mind that this may not be a simple yes or no answer. What the reference says can give you some insight about the candidate’s desirability to a company.

How does your company check references on potential new hires?

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