The last post was an introduction to reference checks. We’ll continue that conversation by providing some practical advice on conducting reference checks.

A few general tips for reference checks:

• Ask open-ended questions. For example, don’t just ask, “Was Bob a good team player?” Ask, “Please provide me with an example that demonstrates how Bob worked with others”. Open-ended questions will result in more valuable information received.
• Ask questions that will allow you to get the most “bang for your buck”. In other words, don’t ask questions that really won’t provide you with much in the way of beneficial information.
• Don’t be afraid to probe. That is, if there is some hesitancy on the other end of the line or you feel that the reference is holding back, dig a bit deeper into the question.
• Unless the candidate has no employment experience, work references are generally better than character references. After all, you want to know how the candidate performs in the workplace. For example, work references will be able to speak to the candidate’s on-the-job interpersonal behaviour and communication skills.
• It’s best to conduct reference checks by actually speaking to the individual, as you’ll normally be provided with the most information this way. If for one reason or another it isn’t possible to speak with the individual, an email with well-crafted, open-ended questions will normally suffice (and one benefit of email is that the reference will have a little more time to put thought into the questions).
• Ideally, have a list of questions prepared in advance of calling the reference. Although you will likely go off-script to ask follow-up questions based on the responses you receive, a list will ensure that you don’t forget to ask any important questions.
• Just as when interviewing candidates, ensure that you don’t ask references any questions that are in violation of human rights (we’ll explore this topic further in an upcoming blog post).

Keeping these suggestions in mind will provide you with the best opportunity to get the most out of your reference checks.  Good luck!


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