Checking References

Over the years, I have done many reference checks as part of the YCharts engineering interview process, and I have been called by others who are doing a reference check on someone I worked with or managed.

I haven’t seen many people write about them, so I thought I would share my thoughts on them. Not all interview processes check references. I think it is a good practice, but I understand why some companies don’t do it.

Normal reference checks can be useless

You are usually talking to someone that a candidate has given you and prepped to say nice things about them. In addition, a person you are calling is human and may have a relationship with the candidate that they don’t want to betray. If you have ever been asked to give a reference, you probably would feel guilty if you said anything that would jeopardize their shot at the job!

Incentives are not always aligned here for the person responding to a reference check supplied by the candidate. I have always thought of it as my job to try to get the reference to say something of substance without feeling guilty about the person.

Favorite two reference questions to ask

If you were going to pair __ with someone on a project, what type of person would you pair them with and why?

If I called you in 6 months and told you that it didn’t work out, what would you assume was the reason?

A little wordy, sure. Can you come up with a better way to phrase them? I am sure you can. You get the gist, though.

The questions force the person in the end to really answer the question many people ask: “What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?” No one has ever honestly told me someone’s weaknesses when I ask them directly; however, with this, they are indirectly telling you what this person could be lacking without feeling guilty.

You might hear someone say: “They are really productive but sometimes have a hard time organizing all of their work, so I would pair them with someone who is pretty organized and detail-oriented.” In that one sentence, you can learn a lot about the person.

Thoughts / comments / edits / concerns? Email me: kevin_fox at me dot com