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3 Pro Tips When Asking For References



Better questions drive better answers when you check references

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In a turbulent and changing hiring landscape, reference checking has become more important than ever. It’s a really powerful tool. A good reference can help hiring managers to make better decisions and gain a deeper understanding of the candidate before bringing them onto the team. While a negative reference can save an employer from making a potentially damaging hiring decision.

What happens if you don't take a good reference?

Well, for starters you’ll miss out on a lot of valuable details about your candidate that you’re unlikely to learn from them directly. You’ll also risk making a hire based on a ‘gut feeling’ and could find out, further down the track, that the candidate is actually just great at interviewing and is lacking the skills needed for the role.

If a person seems like they are the right fit for your company by the way they present themselves, on paper and in person, you should definitely take the time to dig a little deeper and try to gain a better understanding of the whole picture, with some third party insights.

One of the attendees at our great debate session at The FIRM’s event stated, “taking a good reference is a skill” and we couldn’t agree more.

3 Tips for more insightful answers

Here are 3 tips to help you improve the art of asking questions for reference checking:

1. Plan your questions carefully

After interviewing your candidate, you would have already collected a lot of helpful information that can be used to inform some great reference questions.

Consider following up on a situation that the candidate mentioned and hear about it from their manager’s perspective.

Be sure to ask open-ended questions that incite stories and avoid encouraging one-word answers. By being thoughtful about how you pose a question, you can get more relevant information from a referee that will give you confidence in your hiring decision.

2. Don’t give away answers to your questions

When conducting your reference checks it is important not to feed the referee the answers that you want to hear or offer a suggestion as to why you are asking it. This way, you can learn information that is not tainted by your own hopes for the candidate.

The way you structure a question can have a big impact on how the referee responds. Try asking them to ‘comment on’, ‘describe’, or ‘rate and explain’ their take on the candidate’s ability in certain areas.

3. Identify soft skills

A reference check is the perfect opportunity to learn about a candidate’s soft skills. Include questions that will help you understand how your candidate interacts with others; how your candidate responds when things don’t go to plan; how they handle working under pressure or how they problem-solve and brain-storm new ideas.

A reference check is also a great opportunity to find out how a candidate likes to be managed and what they respond positively to in the work environment.

Do they prefer working closely with a team or are they better suited to working independently?

Try asking for an example of how they navigate change or new opportunities to help uncover clues about their potential to grow in your company.

Need help asking the right questions to gain better insights? Try our free Template Builder Tool which gives you access to millions of tried and tested questions from our database that are shown to yield more thoughtful and insightful answers.

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