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Why We Should Ask Better Questions in Reference Checks

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3 Key elements for great reference checking questions

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What's the secret behind good answers?

As a global community, we’re asking more questions than ever. Over 300 million people use the question and answer site, Quora, every month. Half a billion devices use Siri and counting. Oh, and kids? They ask us over 200 questions per day!

Suffice it to say, we ask a lot of questions. But, are we asking the right questions all the time?

The quality of the responses obtained depends on the quality of our questions. Imagine you wanted a recipe from a friend. You will likely get a different answer if you ask "How did you make your lasagne?" as opposed to "What's in your lasagne?". In one scenario you get ingredients, in another, a process. What you really need is both.

Asking the right questions is important in many scenarios. When it comes to reference checking, it’s essential.

In our webinar, The Art of Asking Great Reference Questions, our CEO, Lee Seymour,  talks about the value of great questions and provides his expert tips for reference checking questionnaires. 

In this blog, we summarise key takeaways from the webinar. 

Why we should care about asking great questions?

If you watch Married At First Sight you know there are dramatic breakups each season. Would the outcome be different if contestants were asked different questions during screening? 

Better questions might lead to more happier couples on the program. Then again, that wouldn’t make entertaining TV.

While the MAFS team may want drama, we don’t want it in the workplace.

As Lee explains in the webinar, building a great team relies on asking the right questions during reference checking.

It's time to update your reference questions

You’d be surprised by how many companies use reference templates that are decades old. Decades! These questions are unlikely to reflect modern realities.

In the webinar Lee explains how our workforce is changing. The gig economy is on the rise and there’s high demand for top talent in certain industries. Digitisation is also increasing the need for employees to re-skill. All this means employers have different requirements.

Reference questions from decades ago aren’t designed for hiring today.

Employers today are hiring for current and future needs.

Employers are hiring for the future

During the reference checking stage, you have the opportunity to better understand a candidate’s personality, work skills, strengths and weaknesses. This information can not only help you make the right hire but also onboard them more quickly.

So, how do we do this? Here are the top tips Lee shared in his webinar. 

3 tips for asking better reference checking questions

1. Ask people to rate and comment

Thousands of reference templates have been created using Xref. Over 15 years of data has revealed questions with the highest word counts are those that ask people to rate and comment.

Here’s an example: “Please rate and comment on their attention to detail.”

Asking for a rating and a comment invites people to provide more context. Ratings encourage a hard assessment of skills and attributes. Comments allow people to tell you why they’ve made their rating choice.

Try this during your next reference check and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

2. Ask compliant questions

Reference questions should not discriminate against candidates. Asking about things like age, marital status and ethnic origins are big no-nos.

A good reference question will be brief, applicable, compliant, open-ended and neutral. Our team shortens this to BACON. It’s much easier to remember this way, right? Here’s a great blog about how to use our BACON question structure.

3. Ask the right mix of questions

Our data shows the highest performing reference checks include:

  • 5 essential questions regarding a candidate’s previous employment
  • 4-7 questions that target personal attributes
  • 4-7 role-specific questions

This is about 9 to 18 questions in total. Asking a good mix of questions will ensure you get a total picture of a candidate. Not every question needs a long answer but generally, the more data you can collect the better!

Reference checks are the last stage in the hiring process. It’s a stage where asking great questions is essential. The information you gather during this stage can help make the difference between a good and a bad hire. With the cost of a bad hire rising we know which scenario we prefer.

Tips for asking better reference checking questions

Try our reference check template builder 

If you're working with outdated processes, you might be wondering how to get started with better reference checking.

If that's the case, try Xref’s free template builder.

We’ve built a template using data from one million pieces of feedback, 17 million referee answers and 100,000 unique questions.

With this information, we've identified 60 globally recognised core competencies. Our templates are designed to test these competencies.

Templates are available in different languages, so you can use them around the world.

You can also use our templates to assist with any type of reference check. You don’t need to be an Xref customer for access. Lee gives a short demo of the template builder in the webinar. 

Watch the webinar to see the demo, or better yet, try it out for yourself and see how it works. 

Create your own custom reference questionnaire templates. Try for free.

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