Ask Me No Questions, I’ll Tell You No Lies
Last week I received two phone calls from women who once worked for me. In a fun coincidence, they both asked if I would provide a reference.
I was delighted to oblige as they had done extremely well in their jobs. One I hired myself and the other I had inherited from another manager.
Within days I received both reference calls. One call was made by the actual hiring manager and one from a human resource manager.
Interestingly enough, both calls started out the same way. “So, what do you think of Mary?” (Name changed to protect the innocent.) To such a general question, I almost didn’t know what to say. “What do I think of her about what?” is what I really wanted to say. (But I didn’t. I do try to keep my sarcastic self in a box most of the time!)
“I think she’s great,” was my response. Then, there was a long pause on the other end of the line. I was having a little fun, but in both cases it was clear there was no second question coming.
Don’t Miss this Golden Opportunity
The reference check is an ideal time to get a clear picture of the person you are contemplating bringing on board. But you can only do this when you have a clear idea yourself of the kind of information you want.
Here’s a three-point checklist that will make your reference calls easy, fun (in some cases) and always VALUABLE!
- Ask if it’s a good time to talk. References can be busy people. You need at least 15–30 minutes minimum for a good reference check. Refuse to get the “bum’s rush.” Get permission that this is a good time or set a time to call back.
- Get full contact information. Know who you are talking to and what their functional role or relationship is to the candidate. Are they a former boss, peer, customer or personal reference?
- Have good questions. Remember the old saw, “If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers.” Here are some specific questions:
- Did you hire this person?
- How long did they work for you?
- Were you responsible for their performance reviews?
- What was their most significant contribution during their time at your company?
- Describe the overall quality of their work performance.
- How well did they perform under stressful conditions, such as a sales or project deadline, organizational changes or customer issues?
- Would you say they made a substantial, average or below-average contribution to the organization?
- Were there any areas in which they needed improvement? Any particular weaknesses?
- Would you hire them again?
You get the idea. You can design your own questionnaire based on what’s important for you to find out. I also like to include some ratings (For example, you could ask, “On a 1–5 scale, rate attention to detail, sales follow up, overall attitude, etc.”)
Remember, this is THE golden opportunity to get a look at your ideal candidate and you don’t want to miss it. You’ll be happy for the time you spent when you do a reference check that gives you such valuable insight.