Employee Reference Checks

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A landscaper from Pennsylvania called me the other day to talk about her employee staffing procedures.  At a strategic level, her Company has a nicely-configured recruitment plan encompassing an effective employee referral program, social media postings, and external agency outreach.  Moreover, I was pleased to hear that her company has current job descriptions, performance appraisals, and interview protocols in place.  Nice foundation!

As you can infer, her employee selection system is thorough, formal, and consistent.  With that mindset in place, it is not surprising that the final component of her selection system is to conduct a reference check on all qualified candidates right before a conditional job offer is extended.  Hence the purpose of her call to me.

Beyond her request of reference check questions from me, I reminded her that most companies actively refuse to participate in employee reference checks out of fear of possible negligent referral liability.  Nevertheless, acknowledging that likelihood of non-response, she maintained her idealism and pledged to conduct reference checks on all qualified candidates going forward.  

Here are the employee reference check questions I offered to the landscaper:

  1. What was it like to work with this candidate?
  2. What are this candidate’s greatest strengths?
  3. What should the candidate have done more of, to be more successful at your company?
  4. Was the candidate’s performance consistent with his/her rate of compensation?
  5. Did the candidate improve the company culture while working at your organization?
  6. Did the candidate show professional growth each year of employment with your company?
  7. What training programs did the candidate complete while working with your company?
  8. Would you rather have this candidate as your subordinate, co-worker, or supervisor?
  9. How would you describe this candidate in one word?
  10. If you could hire this candidate again, would you? Why or why not?

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.