A successful reference check can be the difference between a job offer and getting passed over. When you’re employed, job references are probably the last thing on your mind. The problem is that when it comes time to look for a new job, it’s too late. Now is the perfect time to discover and fix those pesky issues hiring managers will be asking about.
What was the applicant’s title? While this may seem like a minor detail, if you called yourself a department manager and your title was actually administrative assistant, you may run into a problem. Keep in mind, however, that government jobs may use generic instead of working titles. For example, the actual title may be Administrative Specialist, but the working title can be Human Resources Manager or Training Specialist. If this is the case, make sure you mention that during the interview. You don’t want to look like a liar.
What were the candidate’s primary responsibilities? Here is another area you want to make sure matches the information you shared on your resume and during the interview. Unfortunately, by the time the hiring manager gets to the references, it’s too late for you to go back and “fix” an embellishment. Talk to your references ahead of time to make sure that they know what positions you are interviewing for. Ask them to highlight the tasks which are pertinent to the job the hiring manager is calling about.
Please describe the quality of their work. Did you make a lot of errors? No one wants to hire a candidate that produces sloppy work.
What are their strengths or weaknesses? Did you think this question was only asked during the interview? Remember, it’s all about perception. The areas you defined as weaknesses may not be true developmental areas according to your current supervisor, the same with strengths.
Was the candidate punctual? No one is going to hire a candidate who was habitually late for work. Your past habits may just come back to haunt you.
Would you re-hire this candidate? This is the ultimate question. If you left on bad terms, you may not be considered eligible for re-hire. If your current company is glad to be rid of you, with plans to slam the door as you exit, a new employer may decide not to open the door.
The problem with reference checking is that once they are checked, it’s too late to go back and “fix” the concerns that would rate a bad reference in the first place. So when should you think about references? The best time to think about references is while you are currently employed.