This is where we need to take a breath, put the phone back down and go back into planning mode. When planning your referee questions, it’s essential to consider the following:

  • Asking behavioural-based questions is now the norm in any robust recruitment process, so it makes sense to extend this philosophy to include referees as well. Do not rush this conversation – the intention is to generate an honest and open discussion about the candidate’s past performance.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Knowing the information you are looking for in advance will drive the type of questions that you ask. Go back through your candidate’s notes including their non-verbal responses and highlight the areas that you need clarification or confirmation on.

Constructing your questions

Now you are ready to construct your referee questions. There are three general areas that you will need to check on, being technical competence, behavioural competence and contrary evidence. The first two are self-explanatory and this can easily be accomplished by asking the referee similar questions to the candidate.

Contrary evidence however, is slightly different. During the interview process, candidates will always put their best foot forward and talk about their successes by showcasing their skills, knowledge and positive attitudes. This is why it is important to ask candidates questions that uncover their less desirable aspects – and don’t be fooled, we all have the flip side to our personalities! Confirming these responses from the candidate with their referees will provide you with insights that will help you make your decision, and more importantly, these insights will assist with matching for cultural fit and the on-boarding process.

Listening ‘between the words’

During the referee check, take care to listen between the words, especially as most checks are conducted over the phone. Listen for the vocal cues, hesitation vs spontaneity; confidence vs uncertainty; optimism vs pessimism… and the list goes on.  Just as you begin with the end in mind, you must listen for the messages that the referees are NOT telling you.

Some sample questions

  • What career advice would you give the candidate at this point in time?
  • What is the most stressful situation that you have seen them in? How did they cope and what strategies did they use?
  • Can you give us two reasons why the position should be offered to this candidate? Now, can you give us two reasons why the position should not be offered?
  • If it was possible, would you employ this person to work with you again?

What not to ask

On a final note, there are two types of questions that should never be asked.  Firstly, “What are the candidate’s strengths and weakness?” This is a lazy question that evokes subjective responses and does not add any value to the decision making process.

Secondly, any questions that relate to age, gender, sexual preference, marital status, religious or political alignment, country of birth, number and ages of children – essentially any questions that are covered by the Human Rights Act anti-discrimination provisions. Stay on the right side of the law at all times. Complying will not distinguish you as an employer of choice, however non-compliance can land you in some very hot water.

If you have any concerns about your recruitment strategies, and your centre is a member of the ECC, go to our website support section on Managing People.  Or consider calling our member’s free employment legal advice line with Buddle Findlay.

If your centre is not a member of the ECC, go to the Shop on our website and consider purchasing the Employer’s Handbook; or better still, consider joining!