With limited resources for hiring and training new personnel, employers must ensure they hire creative professionals who will be able to contribute immediately. In fact, in a survey by our company, managers interviewed said they remove one in five (21 percent) candidates from consideration after speaking to references.
When speaking with an applicant's references, you should do more than just verify basic facts. You ask challenging questions when interviewing a job candidate; take the same approach when interviewing references. Here are four illuminating questions to pose:
- Have you seen the candidate's current resume? Let me read you the part that describes his or her job with your organization. (Stop at each significant point and ask the reference for a comment.) This question will help you confirm that the candidate has provided you with accurate information. More important, you may learn details (good or bad) about an applicant's previous role and responsibilities that he or she may not have mentioned and could factor into your decision.
- Can you describe some of the areas where the candidate is not as strong? It's natural to play down one's weaknesses. Even when you ask applicants to describe areas for personal improvement, they may not be completely straightforward. When posing this question, mention what the individual identified as a shortcoming. Then ask the contact if he or she agrees with that assessment, and why.
- When there was a particularly urgent assignment, what steps did the candidate take to ensure it was completed on time? This question can help you determine how a potential employee is likely to perform under pressure – a common situation for all creative professionals. You also may want to ask the reference if he or she recalls any situations where the employee did not meet a deadline and how the person rectified the situation.
- Why didn't you try to rehire this person? When speaking to a former manager, this question can help you find out just how valued the candidate was at his or her previous organization. You also might uncover the real reason the applicant is seeking new employment. You could learn, for instance, that the employer did ask the candidate to stay but couldn't offer the promotion or pay increase the individual requested. Or you may learn the job seeker was having problems with other colleagues.
Reference checking is definitely a do-it-yourself project. Avoid assigning the task to any other person. No matter how thorough someone else might be, corollary questions will come up for you that might not occur to others. And it's in your best interest to get the facts directly from the sources to ensure the best hire.