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Importance Of Conducting References & Sample Questions

Importance Of Conducting References & Sample Questions

In recent blog posts, we have been discussing interviews and how to maximize their effectiveness in securing professionals who will excel within your organization as well as fit in with its corporate culture. Conducting professional references is an important and essential part of this evaluation process.

In truth, resumes can only describe technical skills, experience, and accomplishments (if they are listed). An interview can demonstrate how the individual presents themselves and their ability to communicate which may provide a better sense of what they are capable of doing and how well they may fit in with your company’s culture. But, let’s face it – in both cases, you are only relying upon what a candidate is telling you.

By conducting references, you can gain a better perspective of the candidate's actual professional behavior and personality traits, which in turn reveals a more accurate picture of their potential. As executive search consultants, Helbling conducts hundreds of professional references each year. We know the value they offer, when done appropriately, in truly understanding a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and predicting their success within an organization.

One of the best tips we can offer on performing references is to listen to the person providing the reference. Be aware of their tone of voice and pay attention to their willingness to respond to your questions. These alone can tell you if the reference is positive or negative. Ask open-ended questions that gather information about the candidate’s performance, problem solving skills, preferred work style, ability to build rapport with colleagues and direct reports, and personal character.

Our suggestions for questions include the following (in no particular order):

  • What was your working relationship with [candidate]?
  • How long have you known them?
  • Can you describe [candidate’s] abilities and experience in the following areas:
  • Individual leadership
  • Integrity
  • Technical knowledge
  • Communication
  • Initiative
  • Judgment / Problem solving
  • What type of environment / culture does [candidate] work best within?
  • What is important for [candidate] to be fulfilled and challenged?
  • How are they motivated?
  • Can you describe [candidate’s] ability to interact with all levels within their own department, and all levels of other departments?
  • What are [candidate’s] professional traits? Personal traits?

If the role is senior level, you will want to address:

  • How was [candidate] able to achieve successful results from team members?
  • How did [candidate] develop people on their team?
  • How would you describe [candidate's] capabilities in growing and managing a business unit?
  • What is [candidate's] reputation with superiors, clients, peers and subordinates, and in the marketplace? How did [candidate] impact the bottom line?

Finally, describe the role that the candidate is being considered for and ask:

  • How do you feel [candidate] would do in this role? What concerns would you have? How does [candidate] compare to people in a similar role?
  • Are there any reasons why I should not hire [candidate]?

Although there is no perfect predictor of how well a professional will fit into your organization, its culture and role, conducting references can undoubtedly give you a clearer picture of how well they will meet your expectations. As search consultants, we feel it is a critical part of an effective employee selection process.