Have I Made the Right Choice? What do I ask the References?

by: Ian K. McEwen

A key part of the hiring process is checking the references for the preferred candidate. This is where you obtain relevant information about the job applicant’s past performance and accomplishments, and verify the information given to you. In most cases, a decision to hire a new employee has already been made, and the reference check is used to validate the hiring decision. Remember, YOU should make the final hiring decision, not someone external to your organization. It is important to obtain an objective opinion of a candidate’s knowledge, skills, experiences, values and work habits to ensure a good fit with your organization.

At the Marckis Group, we recommend using a full circle approach to reference checking. Obtain references from the candidate’s present or former supervisor, a colleague and a third party, possibly a subordinate if appropriate for the job. References should be those who have recently worked directly with the applicant. This presents a more comprehensive picture. We emphasize that human rights legislation applies to both reference checking and interviewing. To protect your dealership, you should obtain a signed consent to collect information about a candidate’s employment performance, academic credentials, and professional licenses or designations. Contacting references from a current employer without consent could seriously jeopardize both you and the candidate especially if the current employer is unaware that the candidate is job searching.

Don’t make an employment offer subject to satisfactory references. References should be checked much earlier in the hiring process. An offer of employment, even a verbal one, is legally binding. Making an offer contingent on a positive reference check creates a legal relationship between you and the candidate. If an offer is revoked, you may have to explain how the reference influenced your decision, which places both you and the reference provider in a legally difficult position.

Here are a few tips in conducting reference checks:

  • Develop a written checklist to remind you of the information you require.
  • Keep a brief description of the qualifications of the job opportunity.
  • Review the candidate’s information including notes taken from your interview.
  • Explain to the reference that you have received a signed consent and the information is in strict confidence.
  • Explain to the reference the position’s duties and qualifications.
  • Take notes in collecting background information, facts, observations and examples – not opinions.
  • Have good listening skills and don’t interrupt a reference’s train of thought needlessly.
  • Write down exactly what the reference says without adding your own evaluation.
  • If you receive unfavourable information, ask the reference if the information has been shared with the candidate.
  • Avoid prejudicial comments without proper substantiation.

So what can I, and what should I, ask the reference?

Talking with the right people and asking the right questions are critical. Make sure your questions relate to the position and are not too subjective. You are looking for quantifiable and verifiable information or measurable results.

Here are some reference questions:

  • What was the candidate’s period of employment, and job title? What was your relationship with the candidate?
  • What were the key responsibilities of the position
  • How would you rate the candidate’s overall work performance?
  • How would you compare the candidate versus other colleagues doing the same work?
  • What are the candidate’s strengths/weaknesses?
  • What was the candidate’s attendance record?
  • How does the candidate work with supervisors, colleagues, and direct reports?
  • What type of supervision suits the candidate’s style?
  • Is the candidate considerate to the opinions of others?
  • Can you provide an example of how the candidate dealt with conflicts and describe how they handled it?
  • Is the candidate capable of multi-tasking? Provide examples.
  • How effective is the candidate at making decisions?
  • How does the candidate respond to pressure?
  • Why did the candidate leave the position?
  • Should I have any reservations about hiring this candidate?

Using proper reference checking techniques will improve your hiring practices, save you money, improve employee morale, and increase your dealership’s overall performance.



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office 905-290-0911 or toll free 1-866-627-2547