Whenever you are interviewing a candidate for any position, you probably ask them to provide you with personal references. While some employers never even contact prospective employees’ references, it is always a good idea to do so—and to have some interesting personal reference questions ready before even picking up the phone.
One of the reasons employers handling recruiting or staffing issues don’t contact them is because they don’t know what to ask or don’t feel they will glean any important information about the prospective employees. However, these personal reference questions will help employers collect some very eye-opening information about the people who want to come work for them.
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What is your relationship with the prospective employee?
This should definitely be the first question you ask because it will shed light on the answers to the rest of the questions. It creates a frame of reference to help you understand what this person's experiences with the prospective employee were like.
For example, a supervisor will be able to say what it's like to have that person as an employee. They will be able to describe their worth ethic and explain how they responded to various situations in the workplace. However, a co-worker will offer different insight into the prospective employee by describing how well they work as part of a team and what their interactions with other co-workers looked like.
How long have you known the person?
This will give you insight into how much weight to give the reference's answers to your questions. Obviously, someone who has known the job candidate for a long time will know them better than someone who has known them only a short amount of time. It can be very revealing if the prospective employee has only short-term references to share. While there can be reasons for this, it could also be a red flag, depending on the answers to the other questions.
Finding out how long they have known the person will also enable you to verify how long they worked in their previous position. This will reveal whether or not they are lying about how long they were there.
What are their weaknesses and strengths?
Sometimes a prospective employee doesn't fully realize what their greatest strengths or weaknesses are, but someone else will. In other cases, employees might not be fully forthcoming about what their weaknesses are, so having another person's take on their skills can really help weed out the candidates who wouldn't be a good fit for the position.
Also be sure to ask the person how their weaknesses and strengths affected their work. Perhaps a particular strength made the person especially good at certain strengths. On the other hand, certain weaknesses may have little or significant impact on their ability to do the jobs they have held and the one they are applying for.
Would you trust them with children, people who are fragile or large sums of money?
This is one of those personal reference questions that many recruiting employers don't even think to ask. The question will provide some real insight into how well the prospective employee handles responsibility, especially when it comes to tricky situations.
In some cases, staffing managers may only choose one or two items on this list to ask about because the others don't apply. They may also prefer to ask about some other specific concern. Whatever the exact question is, it should be something specific that pertains to the job the person is applying for. You want to gauge how much responsibility they can handle and how well they will handle it.
How does the person work with others?
No matter what the position is, there will always be at least some teamwork required, even if the person is given some level of autonomy. It's important to get a feel for how the prospective employee works with others and whether they would be a good team member. You want someone who will fit in well and get along with most of your current employees most of the time.
It's certainly true that some people may not get along with others in the workplace, but you certainly don't want to hire someone who creates conflict all the time. Some employees fit more naturally than others because of how they handle relationships in the office. Additionally, knowing how they treat co-workers will reveal how they will treat clients, customers and anyone else who comes into the workplace.
How do they react to stress?
Every job has stress that comes along with it at different times. Some jobs have more stress than others, but no matter how much stress a position dishes out, it's important to know how the prospective employee will handle it. Both supervisors and co-workers will be able to provide plenty of insight into how the person handles stress.
Staffing managers should be mindful of candidates who respond to stress with a temper or by creating conflict. Other inappropriate behaviors are also a red flag.
Would you hire them again?
One of the most important personal reference questions to ask is whether they would hire the person again. This is a very eye-opening question that serves as a sort of summary to all the other questions on this list. Even if the person had a lot of very nice things to say about the prospective employee, if they wouldn't hire the person again, it will be very revealing.
This question won't necessarily work if the personal reference is a co-worker, but you could still ask if they would hire the person for a position if they were a staffing manager or recruiter. Asking a peer this question will reveal whether or not they actually enjoyed working with the person.
Having a list of personal reference questions like these ready to go before picking up the phone is an essential part of the hiring process for every staffing manager. Be sure to come up with your own questions to add to the list before you start calling up someone's references.