Last month during my “5 key tips for reference checking” article we touched briefly on the importance of asking open ended and follow up questions. While this remains true emphasis should also be placed on the need to properly phrase questions when conducting a reference check. Information is king when conducting a reference check as the final step of the pre-employment screening process and phrasing questions appropriately is paramount in extracting the best and most detailed information possible.
A typical question asked during the reference check process involves asking for a candidates weaknesses. While this is an appropriate question the way in which you ask it can often yield different results. Asking “what are some of the candidate’s weaknesses?” or “can you identify the candidate’s biggest weakness?” can sometimes make the referee apprehensive to answer as their answer may be taken as inflammatory during an otherwise positive reference. Changing the phrasing of the question can yield much better results. Asking the referee “can you identify an area for improvement for the candidate?” is asking the same question phrased in a more positive light. This helps to put the referee at ease and extract the information we are hoping for. If the individual conducting the reference check senses the referee is still uneasy with the question he or she could follow it up by saying something to the effect of “it doesn’t have to be something negative, just an area where the candidate could use further development”. This is just one example of proper phrasing when conducting a reference check. There are many others.
In summary; phrase your questions in a way that is most likely to illicit honest and in depth responses from the referee. Ask open ended questions and follow up if you require more detail. Asking questions in the appropriate phrasing and tone will help put the referee at ease and ensure a thorough reference check.