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California State University, Long BeachCalifornia State University, Long Beach

Telephone Reference Check

How to Evaluate the References Effectively

Whether or not the initial reference is favorable or unfavorable, always get a second opinion.

Be objective. Neither longevity on the job, nor promotions, or raises are necessarily proof that an employee was much more than adequate. Sometimes incompetent people who were very well liked have been known not only to survive on the job, but also to advance.

When checking references, if the first and the most important reference extols the virtues of the employee, there's a chance that you will become so satisfied with the positive comments that you may decide not to explore the person's background any further. You're not only happy to have found the right person for the job, but you may also fool yourself into believing that you can now end the time consuming task of reference checking.

Think again.

The first and most important reference contacted may have felt sorry for the well liked, but inept, former employee and might be willing to do anything to help that person land a good job. Realizing that, it pays to be prudent and exercise some caution. Some employers have conditioned themselves to be suspicious of all glowing references and may even subscribe to the cynical theory that the better the reference, the more anxious the company was to lose the employee.

Don't be overly anxious to hire. Sometimes there is a tremendous anxiety to fill a job, and along comes a candidate who appears to be just right. The interviewer may be overwhelmed with the prospect of filling the job, and may disregard anything negative said by the interviewee. References may not be checked at all, or checked using questions that are unconsciously created to encourage the kind of answer the manager wants to hear. For example: "Do you think he could handle the job?" or, "Is he a hard worker, loyal and honest?" The way these questions are worded encourages only "Yes" answers. It's to your advantage to avoid putting words in the mouth of a reference.