6 questions that help you get the most out of reference checks

August 24, 2016 Pete Jansons

Small business owners already pressed for time and eager to fill vacancies may gloss over the process of checking references. But skimping now can result in major repercussions later when a bad hire takes a toll on the company and forces you back to recruiting from square one.

View reference checks as a valuable opportunity rather than as a chore, and go beyond simply verifying titles and dates of employment. Ask the right questions and you may receive insight far beyond what you’ve learned from a resume or even an interview. Here are some good ones to pose when seeking input about candidates for a position at your small business.

Can you describe this person’s daily activities?

The list of responsibilities and tasks given to you by the reference should closely match what you’ve been told by the applicant. If the discrepancy seems large, ask pointed follow-ups such as, “What percentage of the day would you say Ms. Smith spent supervising others?” or “How many hours per week do you think Mr. Jones interacted with your top client?”

What are this person’s strengths and weaknesses?

While you probably posed a similar question to the candidate, getting an outside opinion can add credibility to those interview statements or reveal new food for thought.

Would you trust this person with company money or confidential information?

Intimate quarters at a small business means employees may come into contact with things they wouldn’t likely encounter at larger places. A dishonest worker could cost your company dearly, so make this question a standard when speaking to any references.

How would you describe this person’s ability to relate to others?

This question is especially important when hiring for a small business because staff members work closely together and depend upon one another. Pose it to former bosses and co-workers to gain an understanding of how this applicant might enhance or hinder workplace culture.

How well do you feel this person handles stress?

Members of your small business team undoubtedly will be asked to wear many hats and do more with less. Think twice about hiring someone who has trouble switching gears or earned a reputation as a nervous wreck.

Is there anything else you think I should know about this person?

Finishing with this type of open-ended question creates a chance for the reference to go in any direction. While you might simply receive a polite wrap-up summary, you also could get an unexpected negative or positive answer. Unfavorable feelings or issues of concern might be revealed, or maybe you’ll uncover hidden talents or poignant demonstrations of character. Probe as necessary, but mostly just listen. You might be surprised by what you hear.


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