What questions yield the most useful information in a reference check?

Remember not to begin the call by asking ''filler questions'' about dates of employment and last title held. Save those for the very end. Instead, open up with either-or types of questions that require the former supervisor to take a stand on a topic. For example, try asking these five opening questions:

1. What kind of structure and supervision would provide Doris with the most support from day one: (a) a structured environment with clear guidelines and immediate feedback or (b) an autonomous, independent, ''hands-off'' type of culture?

2. Some people constantly look for new ways to reinvent their jobs and assume responsibilities beyond the basic, written job description; others adhere strictly to their job duties and ''don't do windows,'' so to speak. Which style fits Doris more accurately?

3. In hiring, we look for a solid balance between quality and volume (or output) in their work. Still, most people lean more in one direction than another. Where does Doris fall on that spectrum?

4. What about her ability to accept constructive criticism? Do we need to walk on eggshells when delivering bad news to her, or can we ''hit her right between the eyes,'' so to speak?

5. Does she function better in a (a) moderate, controllable, and predictable environment; (b) a faster-paced atmosphere with deadline pressures and time constraints; or (c) a ''hyperspace,'' chaotic, ''management-by-crisis'' culture like the floor of the stock exchange?

Tell Me More

Furthermore, try some of these questions as the reference-checking phone call picks up steam:

- How would you grade Doris's ability to predict needs before they arise? In other words, how would you grade her timeliness and proactive business style?

- Would you consider her more of a people person or a technically oriented person?

- How would you grade her oral and written communication


- What about technical capabilities: What softwares were used in your department? Would you consider her level of competence basic/intermediate/advanced?

- How many hours a week did she find it necessary to work in order together job done?

- What about her organizational, time management, and listening skills?

- Have unscheduled leaves, tardiness, or unreliability ever been a problem?

- What do you consider to be Doris's greatest achievement or accomplishment within your company? (And please try to link this achievement to increased revenues, decreased expenses, or saved time, if possible.)

- What one or two areas of improvement could she work on right now as part of a professional development plan? (In other words, what should we look out for in terms of giving her extra support?)

- Would you consider her ''high maintenance'' or ''low maintenance'' in terms of supervision? Is there anything that typically ''unwinds'' or bothers her?

- Is she reliable? Yes. No. If not, why not?

- What was her reason for leaving your company? (What would've been her next logical move in progression at your company had she stayed?)

- What was her ending salary?

- What were her dates of employment?

- Is there any additional information that you feel would help us in determining her ability to excel here?

Using these questions, a typical reference-checking phone call will last between ten and fifteen minutes. The value of the queries, of course, lies in your ability to bounce a candidate's version of reality against a former supervisor's opinion. In addition, nothing works better than a reference check in providing you with a blueprint for managing to a person's strengths.

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