Essential questions to be asked during a reference check

Employers can touch upon a few questions to avoid surface level inquiry during reference checks

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Reference checks can be one of the most overlooked elements in an interview process. Since they are done towards the end, there is a risk of them being superficial or ending up as just another item checked off the list. Reference checks can be a useful tool in the hiring process to get a holistic preview of the candidate.

There are a few inquiries that the hiring manager can make while conducting a reference check. In many cases, it so happens that reference checks are carried out even after the individual has been on-boarded. In such cases, if something negative pops up, the new employee has to be let go after onboarding, which reflects badly on the employer and adversely affects employer branding.

The questions asked will vary, depending upon the person for whom the check is being performed and with whom it is being conducted. However, there are a few essential elements one can touch upon to avoid making a bad hire.

Performance and change management

Questions about a candidate’s performance level are usually not asked directly, since it is related to the functional aspect of a potential employee. Instead, it can be asked in a different manner.

Praveer Priyadarshi, HR specialist, says, “Questions about performance can be asked by presenting a situation to the referees and asking how they would see the referred candidates responding to them.”

Questions on how employees handle change are also important to ask and can be posed in the same way. Today, businesses need to employ talent capable of responding to disruption in a positive way and embracing it. With recurrent technology change, it helps to have someone who can jump right in and lead the change.

Rajani Tewari

Organisations need people who are goodwill ambassadors and not those who speak negative about the company. A social-media check can help weed out the wrong candidates

 

Leadership quality

It is essential to touch upon this, especially when hiring for senior level or management roles. In such cases, it is crucial to find out how the employees have handled ambiguous situations, and whether they were successful. Moreover, understanding leadership quality by sourcing examples of situations where the candidates have displayed such ability is an important metric to understand if they are suitable for the role or not. Handling situations, which present an ethical dilemma, are another example of what to touch upon to get a better understanding of the candidate.

Learning requirements

This is a chance for the management to be proactive and ask a two-fold question of the referee. If the person giving the reference mentions a skill that is the bare minimum requirement for the role, then the book can be closed on the candidate then and there.

There is also a possibility of the person giving the reference mentioning a requirement, which can help the learning department get a head start on understanding the training and learning requirements of the person being on-boarded. This can potentially eliminate a few rounds, while analysing the skill gaps of the new employee.

Likability

This one is for peers and colleagues. Questions can revolve around the general likability of the person, whether they were approachable, whether they maintained good relationships with everyone and whether they preferred to work in silos or were comfortable working in a team.

Valuable insights about the candidates can be derived from the responses to such questions, and give a preview of how they may fit in the current office culture.

Praveer Priyadarshi

Questions about performance can be asked by presenting a situation to the referees and asking how they would see the referred candidates responding to them

Teaching ability

This is for the third and last rung of the ladder—the juniors and people who reported directly to the candidate. Here, the goal is to find out if the person was helpful and supportive to juniors and was able to guide or mentor individuals to achieve milestones.

Such questions can be asked of a peer as well. The responses can provide a fair idea of whether the candidate is a good teammate or not.

Social-media check

Social-media check, or any online platform, where the candidate is active, can be a useful reference to find out more about various aspects of a person. People nowadays not only blog and tweet about their professional lives, but also interact with other professionals from different companies.

“Organisations need people who are goodwill ambassadors and not those who speak negative about the company. A social-media check can help weed out the wrong candidates”, says Rajani Tewari, SVP-HR, VIBGYOR Group of Schools.

At the end of the day, reference checks are industry specific, and the questions to be asked can vary depending upon role, seniority and domain. However, rather than a surface-level evaluation, these questions can really help HR probe into the kind of person a candidate is and make a more informed decision.

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