Similar to asking someone out for a date, when calling a potential reference person we’re usually just happy they said YES! It’s rare that we go beyond the initial excitement and actually ask questions to find out if they’re really the best person for the job.
In reality, a bad reference can mean the difference between getting hired or not. So it’s definitely a good idea to do a bit of prep work beforehand. Not only will it take some of the guesswork out of what they may or may not say, but many referees may actually welcome the practice. Don’t forget that most HR professionals are experts at asking open-ended questions that cause referees to spilling the beans… so make sure what they spill is good!
10 of the most common questions HR asks References
- First verify the candidates’ employment dates, title and role
- If you could rehire the candidate, would you? Why or why not?
- What was the reason for the person leaving?
- What kind of duties and responsibilities were assigned to the candidate? Did he/she complete them to your satisfaction? Did he/she show initiative and go beyond what was required of them?
- What would you say were the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?
- How would you evaluate the employee’s performance with the tasks likely to be assigned in the new position?
- Was the candidate punctual? Were there any issues with absenteeism?
- Did the employee get along with their peers, how about managers? Customers?
- How did the employee handle conflict or pressure?
- 10. Is there anything else I should know about the candidate before we hire them?
Just like in a new relationship, you wouldn’t want your date standing at your front door without any notice; you likewise wouldn’t want your references to be receiving calls from employers without a heads up! Also as a courtesy, ask them how and when they prefer being called.
Since giving references is now mandatory, you don’t have to include the statement, “References available upon request” at the end of your marketing material and PLEASE don’t include your reference contact information on your resume!! You wouldn’t write your date’s phone number on a bathroom wall now would you? It’s private and confidential and only given at the interview.
Now go out there and find that one er, I mean five special people…Happy Valentine’s Day!