How to Check References
You can get facts about job history, skills, and experience from a résumé, and learn about a candidate’s personal goals, attitudes, and cultural fit from an interview. But you won’t have a complete picture until you check references.
Don’t pay too much attention to personal references listed on the résumé. These people will almost always give glowing reviews. Instead, talk to former employers—preferably the managers who directly supervised the applicant. You’re looking to confirm many of the credentials and experience they’ve mentioned, but also to uncover the less tangible aspects of the applicant’s performance and work style, such as how well they collaborated with others and if they were punctual and hard working. You will need to ask the candidate for names and contact numbers and get their permission to run these checks.
Start your reference interview with straightforward questions to establish rapport and a relaxed environment, such as verifying employment history, title and role. Then ask open-ended questions in an effort to elicit in-depth, thoughtful answers. Keep your queries related to the job and refrain from asking about personal habits. Some examples of questions include:
- What is your evaluation of their overall performance?
- Did they advance in your company or remain at the same level?
- What are their three main strengths?
- How did they work with other employees and in a team environment?
- Did they take initiative to go beyond their primary responsibilities?
- Is there anything else I should take into consideration before hiring them?
Depending on the responsibilities of your job, you may want to go a little further and run a background check. According to a 2012 survey for Human Resources Management, 69 percent of organizations say they conduct criminal background checks on all job candidates. Laws on what you can and cannot check vary by state, so it’s best to consult with your attorney before performing a criminal record search or requesting a credit report. At the very least, you must get the applicant’s permission in writing.