There comes a point in time in the Search process when you find a candidate that seems to fit and you want to know as much as there is to know about them. One of the best ways to do this is through the process of doing references. My philosophy on references is that they should be used to get to know someone better, not to uncover some “red flag” that would change your mind about them. In my tenure in the Search Consulting business, I have yet to perform a reference that has eliminated a candidate. This is mostly due to the fact that when we ask the candidate for the names of references, and describe why we are going to contact these people, the names we will be given are going to be of people who will not say negative things about the candidate. Why would they give us references that would hurt their cause if they really want the job?
In many cases the hiring authority wants to make the calls to the references his/herself. I’m in favor of that when it is practical for the hiring authority to do so. When not, I am more than glad to perform the process. Over the years I have devised a series of questions that I like to ask. The answers to these questions are documented and added to the sheet of questions and forwarded to the hiring authority for their perusal. I make it clear to the person giving the reference that the information will go directly to he hiring authority and no one else not even the candidate. Remember these are “professional” references, not “character” references. Typically I like to get 3 references from the following: a former or current (if possible) boss, a peer group member, a customer or client, and a subordinate (if possible)
Here are the questions I ask:
- What is your professional relationship with him/her?
- What were his/her responsibilities?
- How would you describe the quality and quantity of his/her work? Describe his/her “work ethic”.
- How would you describe his/her attitude and personality (positive/negative)? How would you describe his/her general emotional state (is he a moody person)? Have you ever observed him/her working under stress, or during a traumatic period in his life? Can he/she deal with, and when necessary, control his/her emotions?
- How would you describe his/her appearance (dress, grooming, casual vs. conservative)?
- How would you characterize the relationship with his/her staff?
- What are his/her strengths and successes?
- What are his/her weaknesses or failures?
- What is the most effective way to motivate him/her?
- How would you compare his/her performance with others who have had similar responsibilities?
- How does he/she handle admitting that he/she is wrong?
- How does he/she work with other people?
- How do you feel about his/her management practices, particularly in handling processes and people and his/her abilities to complete a project?
- Can you describe his/her abilities in training, developing, and motivating subordinates?
- How did senior management perceive him/her?
- What would subordinates (or peer group members) say about him/her?
- Under what circumstances did he/she leave his former employer?
- Is there anything else that you care to offer that we haven’t touched on?
- Has there ever been any question about his/her integrity?
- Would you hire him/her back if the situation were right?