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I am so often asked; how do you really get honesty from a reference check? Reference checking in this day is fraught with complexity. Privacy laws mean that many companies no longer release a written reference for the departed, and even a verbal check beyond a confirmation of length of service can be hard to obtain.


If you are unable to get a reference from your prospective employees previous workplace then the world-wide-web might give you a few answers:

1.    Google them - use their name, company and position to see if there are any references to them on the web, these could be anything from achievements, PR, comments or legal matters.  Yes is can be a fascinating exercise.


2.    Find them on Facebook or LinkedIn, become a friend and check out their profile, comments and life experiences.



But if you can get past the gatekeeper you need to reference the referee even before you commence your reference check...  Here is the low down...  You need to ask 10 questions such as:

1.    Are you personally friendly with (candidates name)?

2.    Did you recruit them?

3.    Did you manage them?

4.    Did you conduct their annual performance appraisal or pay review?

5.    Did you know them prior to working with them?

6.    Confirm their position in the company

7.    Did they resign to you?  Or, were they dismissed? Were you expecting it?

8.    Have you been in touch since they left?

9.    What is your understanding or their reason for leaving?

10. Would you re-hire them and if so to do what?

This will let you know a lot about the relationship between the candidate and referee and allow you to decide if they are indeed an appropriate referee.  If you are not happy you need to revert back to the candidate and ask for a more suitable referee. 


It sounds like I have a guilty until proven innocent attitude, which is far from my intention, it's just you'd be very surprised how many referee's are inappropriate. 



So,  say you have determined that the referee is an appropriate person.  Here is where the two ears one mouth rule applies.


Listen and do less of the talking.  In order to prompt conversation, ask them the following and then LISTEN.

Basic questions:

1.    Confirm employment dates

2.    Confirm the role title and responsibilities

More detailed questions:

1.    How did you monitor (candidates name's) performance?

2.    What measurable outcomes were they responsible for?

3.    Were the expectations met in this regard?

4.    What did (candidates name) avoid doing?

5.    Are they hands on? (Give me an example)

6.    Can you give me a sentence that best describes (candidates name's) legacy...  starting with...


"The (company name) misses (candidates name) everyday because ...... 


(Example answer could be 'because you knew when it was 5pm because they would be the first to leave the building!')




You can also try asking questions using a 1-5 scale? Some answers in the positive will suit the role and some you will want to be in the negative.  You choose the scale or you could use, "yes, no or maybe" or maybe even, "always, never or sometimes".  "Rare, medium or welldone?"  (Ok it's dinner time, I'm hungry!).


Here are 50 questions to get you thinking.  It will only take a few minutes to get the answers. Trust me the review of the answers is truly revealing...


Leadership Skills

1.    Thinks outside the square?

2.    Solution driven?

3.    Strong attention to details?

4.    Saves the company money?

5.    Ambitious?

6.    Gets the team focused?

7.    Leads by example?

8.    Gets involved at critical times?

9.    Treats the company like it's their own?

10.  Gets results and outcomes within the desired timelines?



1.    Team player?

2.    Looks for acknowledgment?

3.    Happy person to work with?

4.    Personal life stays personal?

5.    Loved by the team?

6.    Positive listener?

7.    Sympathetic but remains focused?

8.    Makes great choices in hiring team members?

9.    Can be defensive?

10.  Short tempered?


Business Skills

1.    Saves the company money?

2.    Nothing is ever a problem?

3.    Knows their stuff?

4.    Will seek help when required?

5.    Proactive?

6.    Productive?

7.    Creative?

8.    Budget driven?

9.    Accurate?

10.  Had/has great sources and contacts?

11.  Ambitious?

12.  Knows the art of win/win negotiation?

13.  Has made an error that cost the company money?


Personality and Skills

1.    Loves to learn new things?

2.    Excellent computer skills?

3.    Logical thinker?

4.    Engaged listener?

5.    Health conscious?

6.    Defensive?

7.    Networker?

8.    Multi tasker?

9.    Picks up concepts quickly?

10.  Is ok to be corrected?

11.  Even tempered?


So just to recap!

1.    Reference the referee!

2.    Go onto Google, Yahoo or Bing and do some of your own investigation!

3.    Two ears and one mouth!


All in all, take my advice and you might just hire a winner!


Natasha X

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