5 Deep Questions to Ask a Candidate’s Job Reference

Whether talking or emailing a job reference, here are 5 questions for the first timer or the pro

  1. Why are you willing to be a reference?
  2. Where do you see the candidate’s career in 5 years?
  3. What’s a strength that could also be considered a weakness of theirs?
  4. How have they influenced others around them?
  5. What’s your favorite story about them?

Each of these questions has several takeaways that provide deeper insight into the job candidate, their personality, qualities, work ethic, and interpersonal skills.

Why are you willing to be a reference? Seems like a simple question. But the answer you receive can be quiet telling. You should listen for hesitation or a, “they asked me to” response. Ideally, the great candidates will have references that are excited to help them in their career. A lot of references will respond with something stating how honored they were to be asked to provide a reference. You will be able to glean a lot from this question because candidates generally provided references which will be the most enthusiastic, most telling, of their stories.

Where do you see the candidate’s career in 5 years? Here’s one question that provides a 3rd party’s perspective of the candidate’s capabilities and intentions. Job interviews don’t always draw out a candidate’s future prospects. Knowing what other see as potential can be reassuring or identify a misalignment of goals.

What’s a strength that could be considered a weakness? No references ever like speaking negatively of the person that asked them to be a reference but we are not perfect and neither are our candidates. This question allows a reference to share a detail that may otherwise be overshadowed by all the great things they will tell you.

How have they influenced others around them? To get a sense of how well a future team member will fit into the culture ask this question. This will give you a sense of their ability to interact with others. Some roles require a leader that is uplifting while some roles require an individual that can keep order.

What’s your favorite story about them? And here is the question that really goes deep into not only the relationship between the candidate and reference but also into the highlight reel of the candidate from the reference’s point of view. This is an opportunity for the reference to pull from history to illustrate the best qualities of a candidate. Sometimes these stories illustrate technical know-how, leadership, resilience, interpersonal skills, etc.

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