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What Questions Should You Ask an Employment Reference?

written by: Alison Moxley•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 1/8/2011

When considering what questions you should ask an employment reference, choose your words carefully. It is important to make sure you ask the right questions to get an accurate picture of your candidate and his abilities.

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    Questions That Give You the Best Picture of Your Candidate

    When evaluating a potential candidate's employment reference, it's important to ask the right questions to get a clear picture of the sxc.hu, on the phone, GraphiteBP candidate. Asking the right questions can help to determine whether the candidate is the right fit for the company.

    Determine the relationship between your candidate and the reference. Have they had a long working relationship, or did they work together briefly on a project? Is the relationship that of a manager and a subordinate or were they co-workers?

    Questions to ask a reference for employment:

    How long have you known the applicant? In what capacity? Were you the candidate's manager? Were you her direct supervisor?

    Dig into the person's reliability, character, judgment, and adaptability. You can teach your new hire the job requirements, but you cannot teach punctuality, dependability, and flexibility.

    Questions to ask:

    Was she responsible for any other employees? Was she punctual? Did she follow through on projects? Was she available to help out in other departments?

    Ask for specific examples of the candidate's competency. Delve into concrete situations in which the person performed well on the job or met a specific goal.

    Questions to ask:

    Did he meet any sales goals? Did he implement any new programs? Can you tell me about a time when he provided excellent customer service? What was his most significant achievement?

    Ask whether the employment reference would hire the candidate again. Tread carefully here. If the person left because of a personal issue, don't allow the reference to discuss this with you. Sharing personal information about the candidate can leave the company open to legal problems.

    Questions to ask:

    Would you hire him again? Would he be re-hired in his same position or in a higher position? Would he be given more or less responsibility?

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    Avoid These Questions

    There are some questions you should never ask an employment reference about your candidate. They are questions that can be considered illegal interview questions. The reference meeting is considered an extension of the interview and is protected by discrimination regulation.

    Don't ask:

    Did she take a lot of sick days? Did she have frequent absences due to childcare issues? Is he married?

    Does she require a day off for Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, etc?

    How did her being blind affect her work?

    Did you have to provide her with an extra space for milk pumping?

    Was he flirtatious with other co-workers?

    Questions to ask a reference for employment exclude Issues such as family status, religion, disability, and sexual orientation. They are protected categories. Don't discuss them with your employment reference.

    It may seem daunting to figure out what questions you should ask an employment reference. Make your questions as specific as possible. Avoid asking boilerplate questions that don't get to the meat of the person's competency. Avoid asking personal questions about the applicant. Armed with the right information, you can be assured you've made the right hiring decision.

    Image credit: sxc.hu, GraphiteBP