Casey Reynolds

3 Tips To Always Getting An Answer When Checking Employment References

Searching For The Truth
Checking employment references

In this sue-happy society we live in, most businesses have a policy not to give out any information on their current or former employees. But as we all know, without at least 1 or 2 employment references, you’re entering into a danger zone. Because history normally repeats itself, you have to find a way to penetrate these tight-lipped references. Here are 3 tips to do this:

Be Prepared And Ready
Equip yourself before checking employment references

The worst thing that can happen to you when checking employment references is to forget to ask the crucial questions that can save you thousands of dollars in hiring mistakes. You can alleviate this by developing a Reference Check Form.

This form will not only be the place where you write down all of the answers you get from each candidate’s employment reference, but it will also contain a phone script and the well thought out questions that will help you to get the answers to make good decisions as to which candidates to hire.

The script is what you’ll be saying to the employment reference. For example, you can say something like:

Hello, my name is Sandra; I’m calling from Keystone Development to do a quick reference check on Tim Watson. I will only take 3 minutes of your time. Can you tell me . . .

The questions you ask could be something like. . .

How long were they employed with you?
Were they reliable?
Did they call off or come in late a lot?
How did they get along with others?
How was their attitude – good or bad?
Would you ever hire them back?

Don’t Interrogate
Ask only the important questions when checking employment references

Nobody wants to be cross-examined like they’re on a witness stand in a court room. This is why you only want to ask a handful of questions. These people are busy just like you. If you keep them on the phone longer than a few minutes, they’re defenses will go up and they won’t open up to you because they’ll feel that you’re interrupting their day.

After asking a question, if they begin to hesitate, play on their soft spot. Tell them that you’re just a small business owner trying to hire 1 or 2 decent employees and that you just need them to tell you off the record if they would ever hire your candidate back.

If they say yes, that is a good sign. If they say no, ask “why not”? If they continue to reject your attempts, then say, “can you at least tell me how long they worked for you”? Look for inconsistencies in what the reference said versus what your candidate said regarding length of employment and other issues.

Utilize Personal Employment References
Make use of intimate connections when checking employment references

If all else fails and you can’t get any information from employment references, call your candidate and ask them for as many personal references as they can give you. These can be anywhere from current or former co-workers to business associates to clients to friends.

I used to think that asking for personal references was a joke. I mean, like these co-workers or friends wouldn’t sing my candidates praises. Little did I know that personal references are a goldmine . . . if you know what you’re doing.

Open-ended questions are the best kinds of questions to ask personal references. These will get them opening up and talking to you about your candidate – and remember, the more they talk, they more they’ll tell you. Here are some examples of open-ended questions:

Why are they a good employee?
What are the top 3 reasons I should hire them?
What’s 2 of their strengths?
Can you tell me 1 of their weaknesses? Why would they make a good _______?

You would be amazed at how loose co-workers, friends and business associates can be in giving you the God-awful truth about your candidate. Most people don’t like their co-workers and would relish an opportunity to sabotage them – whether that’s due to the green-eyed monster of jealousy or envy or just part of human nature.

As a side note, to save yourself from future legal disputes, make sure that you get your candidates permission in writing before you contact any of their current or former employers, co-workers, friends or business associates. Add this to your job application. You can say something like:

I give permission to (your company) to check my current and former employment and personal references.

As you can see, it can be easy to get tight-lipped references to open up and tell you the truth about your candidates if you follow these 3 easy steps.

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Casey Reynolds is an Entrepreneur, Author and Expert with over 20 years of experience in Hiring and Retaining Employees.Visit him at or e-mail him at