What Employers Want to Learn From Reference Checks

Most prospective employers will ask you to provide several professional references during your final interviews or before you can officially join the team. It’s not surprising that your interviewer would be interested in speaking with people who have worked with you in the past, but what exactly are they trying to learn when they speak with your references?

This week, we asked Alan K., Akraya’s Customer Success Specialist, to give us the inside scoop on professional reference checks and what employers are trying to learn from them.

What kind of questions are employers asking a prospective employee’s references?
Basically, there are two questions that employers are trying to gain insight into – if the candidate actually did work there in the capacity in which they told the employer and what type of worker the candidate is.

Example questions that an employer might ask an employee reference include:
1. What was the working relationship you had with this person? Length of time worked with them?
2. How would you describe their interpersonal skills?
3. What would you say motivated the individual most?
4. What would you say are their strongest attributes?
5. Would you rehire or recommend the individual for rehire?

So what is it that employers ultimately want to get out of talking to references?
As you can see from the earlier example questions, the employer is trying to gain reassurance that he or she would be making a wise decision by bringing the prospective employee onto their team. The employer is already impressed with the candidate’s skill set and attitude, and is simply trying to cover all of their bases and make sure there isn’t some extremely undesirable aspect about the candidate’s personality or work ethic that may not be apparent on the surface.

How should a job seeker choose who should be a reference? Should they select someone who they know would say only positive things, like a close co-worker?
Most employers would prefer that a job seeker choose a former manager or supervisor as a reference. This is because managers are usually able to deliver a relatively unbiased opinion and are much less likely to be swayed into giving a positive referral if one isn’t truly deserved. A manager is also a good pick for a reference because a positive referral from them will hold more weight than one from a co-worker who is similarly ranked. That being said, job seekers should also select references who worked with them for at least a year, have a good understanding of their abilities and can attest to their positive attributes.

Should they help prepare the reference to answer potential questions?
If you have done a good job of selecting your references, an employee should not have to provide any coaching or preparation. However, it is always helpful to let your reference know that they may be receiving a reference call from a potential employer. You can also share the basic job description of the position you’re after with your reference so they can better relate your previous experience to your present goals. You’ll also want to refresh them on your job description and contributions while you were working with them – especially if a lot of time has passed since they last worked with you. You don’t want your references to be caught off guard and fail to recall what it is you even did on their team!

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