How to Conduct Effective Reference Checks

The problem with conducting reference checks is the same problem as interviewing: most people don't know what questions to ask. If you know what questions to ask, then reference checks can be extremely helpful towards finding a candidate that is not only qualified but also fits well with your organization. In order to conduct the most effective reference checks possible, here is what you need to do:

Before you check references, make sure you have the candidate complete a personality profile so that you can identify their Three Primary Traits. These include:

  • How he thinks and makes decisions
  • How he communicates
  • His work pace

To learn more about the Three Primary Traits, read our post, “The Three Critical Strengths of High-Performing Consultative Salespeople.”

This may sound basic, but too many people skip this courtesy: When you call the reference, being by thanking her for her time and how much you appreciate her taking a few minutes to talk with you about John Doe, who provided her as a reference. It is absolutely critical to set the tone, relax the person, and get them to open up. 

Tell her that you already know that John is a Superstar and that you are NOT calling her to learn more about how great John is (We get it: John’s a great guy).

Tell her that you are seriously considering hiring John and you are calling in order to understand the best way to work with him.

This is the first thing you ask the reference: how does John make decisions? Is he a fast or slow decision maker? Is he more hands-on and tactical or more big picture and strategic? Ask if she can provide an example of a decision John made and how it turned out. Is John more independent or more of a collaborator? When the reference talks, be quiet, listen, and take notes.

The next thing to ask: what’s the best way to communicate with John? Does he like to do the social thing before getting down to business, or does he prefer a more direct, factual approach? Ask if this is any different when communicating with John via email compared with communicating in-person. This will tell you a lot about John’s style of interacting with people and how he will fit in with you and your team—or not!

Next question: what’s John’s work pace like? Does John have a fast, pro-active pace, or is he more methodical and process-oriented?

Final question: is there anything else you can share that would be helpful to know about working with John? 

After you hang up the phone, compare the reference's responses with John’s Personality Profile to determine if there is alignment and consistency, which will help confirm the accuracy of her assessment of John. 

If done correctly, this process can reveal a lot about John and if he will be a good fit for the role and your organization.