A resume and an interview are essential in evaluating a job applicant. Still, they have limitations because the candidate only shows the parts of themselves they want to be seen.FS blog image.png

By asking reference questions from someone who has directly observed the applicant’s work, you can get different insights and start to construct a more accurate picture of how this person would potentially fit on your team.

Don’t forget these eleven questions when you speak to references.

1. Can you tell me about how you and the candidate worked together?

Why you should ask this: This is an opportunity to confirm the basics the candidate established on their resume or in an interview. It is also an opportunity to understand the reference’s job title and the context of the feedback that will follow.

Risk of not asking this: If you don’t establish a basic foundation at the beginning, you may waste 30 minutes of interview time before finding out that the reference and applicant never actually directly collaborated.

2. Can you tell me about a specific accomplishment the candidate achieved while working with you?

Why you should ask this: This goes beyond generic strengths. It uncovers real-world examples of the candidate's capabilities. There’s a good chance the applicant has already shared this win, making the question a tool to identify whether the candidate has a humble or self-inflated outlook.

Risk of not asking this: Like reference question #1, this is an excellent gateway question, letting the reference know you’re not simply here to catch the applicant in some half-truth. Asking about positive accomplishments can help build rapport and prepare the reference to go increasingly deeper into the next questions.

3. How did the candidate handle a challenging situation at work?

Why you should ask this: Every employee at every job will eventually face obstacles. You need to understand and prepare for how this new hire will respond. Will they freeze up or take action? Do they “go it alone” or collaborate?

Risk of not asking this: You might hire someone who struggles under pressure or lacks the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate challenges.

4. Can you describe the candidate’s work ethic and dependability?

Why you should ask this: Reliability and a strong work ethic are important across all positions, a sentiment shared not just by managers. 77% of employees feel like they are most productive when surrounded by coworkers with a strong work ethic.

Risk of not asking this: A lack of dependability can throw an entire company into distress, with one missed deadline falling like a series of dominoes into more missed deadlines, clients lost, and more. You need to know if they were frequently missing deadlines or had attendance issues.

5. How did the candidate collaborate with colleagues?

Why you should ask this: Teamwork is key to success in most workplaces. You are hiring one person, but it’s important to remember they will be functioning as part of a team.

Risk of not asking this: You might hire someone who struggles to collaborate, leading to team conflict and hindering productivity.

6. Can you describe the candidate’s communication style?

Why you should ask this: Beyond the ability to communicate ideas clearly, there is the ability to communicate ideas effectively within a particular setting. Don’t ask for a binary good/bad assessment of the applicant’s communication skills. Asking about their style gives you a better picture of how they might operate in a group dynamic.

Risk of not asking this: Even if the candidate is highly proficient, you risk losing them or alienating the existing team by inserting an aggressive communicator in a group that is predominantly passive, or by creating any other kind of communication mismatch within the team.

7. How would you rate the candidate on specific skills?

Why you should ask this: Tailor this question to the specific role. If the role is highly complicated, you might have a list of skills required for the job. While applicants can have skills a past employer or manager doesn’t know about, it’s informative to get numerical ratings on skills that do cross over.

Risk of not asking this: You might hire someone who lacks the necessary skills for the job, leading to performance issues and the need for additional training, or another lengthy and costly hiring process.

8. What did the candidate contribute to your company culture?

Why you should ask this: Insights from a former employer can be valuable. This question helps to understand if the candidate thrived in their past work environment. Do not ask if they think the applicant would thrive in your company culture – because the reference likely doesn’t know the details of your culture.

Risk of not asking this: Hiring someone who does not fit the company culture can poison company morale and lower productivity across the board.

9. Is there any area where the candidate would need additional support in their first 90 days?

Why you should ask this: This is a key question to uncovering an applicant’s weaknesses without forcing the reference into a situation where they feel they’re speaking negatively about the candidate.

Risk of not asking this: You ultimately need to know this person’s shortcomings – we all have them. And if those deficiencies are ultimately acceptable, wouldn’t you want a roadmap for how to onboard your new employee and set them up for success?

10. What is your overall impression of the candidate as an employee?

Why you should ask this: This open-ended question for references allows them to share unprompted insights that may not have been covered elsewhere.

Risk of not asking this: Following your list of specific reference questions, this person might have something in mind that you didn’t even think to ask. Don’t miss out on this opportunity.

11. Would you rehire the candidate for a similar position?

Why you should ask this: If they hesitate – there’s a problem.

Risk of not asking this: This is the ultimate question you will be asking yourself: should I hire this person? Why wouldn’t you ask the same of a reference?

These eleven essential questions for references are just a small sample of the many questions that will be asked during a hiring process that includes applications, forms, and interviews. Your team can organize all those questions and answers using Future Systems HR Solutions. Streamline the process today - from interviewing to onboarding - without letting any information slip through the cracks. Contact Future Systems now.

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