The job interview will be a primary source of information about applicants. However, it may not be the best source for some information. A job reference may be the most effective way to learn about dependability, follow through, and ability to get along with coworkers.
VCU requires a minimum of two reference checks for candidates before an offer can be made. (If two references are unable to be obtained after repeated attempts, please consult with HR about how to proceed.) One of the references must be from a candidate’s current/most recent supervisor. Other references may come from a former employer/supervisor, a colleague, a former professor, etc. All applications for employment include authorization from the applicant to contact current and prior employers. However, it is important to respect confidentiality, and candidates should be notified before references are contacted. If a finalist is reluctant to provide a current supervisor as a reference, it is recommended that the hiring manager consult with HR to determine the best approach. It may be possible to obtain a reference from another leader within the organization. Or, in situations when candidates are wary of informing their supervisors that they are pursuing other employment opportunities, an offer may be made with a final supervisory reference a condition of employment. (When the hiring manager for a position is the top candidate's current VCU supervisor, this may be noted in the hiring proposal; a formal reference from the hiring manager/current supervisor is not required.)
Former employees who have been terminated for cause by VCU are not eligible for rehire at VCU. Applicants excluded by this provision may request their status be reviewed if, after a minimum of five years, they can present evidence to the chief human resources officer that the behavior or competency deficiencies that led to their dismissal have been corrected. The online recruitment system should automatically reroute ineligible applicants to an inactive status.
The hiring department must confirm using primary source verification that any licenses, certifications or degrees set forth in the position requirements or that are required to perform the essential duties of the position being filled are currently held by the applicant.
If the selected candidate is currently employed by VCU, a reference from the candidate’s VCU supervisor is required. Hiring managers may also contact HR to obtain information regarding the employee’s past performance and conduct. In order to review this information, it must be requested; it is not provided automatically.
Always check references of your top candidate(s) regardless of your impressions of their qualifications. A mistake is costly in time, energy, and money; take the time to check references before making a job offer.
Reference checks can reveal information about an applicant's behavior with prior employers that could be critical to your decision, regardless of the applicant's skills, knowledge, and abilities. Failure to check references can have serious legal consequences for the university.
- Check references after you have interviewed a candidate. Checking references before the interview may create false expectations and affect your ability to evaluate the applicant's qualifications objectively.
- Conducting reference checks by phone is recommended. Written responses to reference checks rarely uncover negative factors. People hesitate to put in writing information they may be more willing to provide over the phone. Checking a reference by phone allows you to ask clarifying questions if needed. Do not let letters of reference substitute for phone calls.
- Generally, professional references are preferred as opposed to character references. Professional references are people who have actually worked with the candidate as their supervisors, subordinates, or colleagues. In some instances, the reference may be a client or customer of the candidate. A current or former supervisor is the most preferable reference as that person is or was in a position to make assessments of the candidate. Character references may be acceptable if the candidate is new to the workforce. Academic references from teachers and professors are also acceptable if the candidate is a recent graduate.
- If the candidate does not want you to contact a certain employer, you need to explore the reasons with the candidate. If the candidate indicates that the current supervisor should not be contacted, inform the candidate that the lack of the current supervisor’s reference may affect the hiring decision. Hiring managers may consider extending an offer contingent on receipt of a successful reference from a candidate’s current supervisor.
- Develop a set of job-related questions to be used on all reference checks. As with interview questions, target your questions to the competencies needed in the job. See sample references questions (search under forms) to develop a list of questions.
- Be sure to record notes to document the reference check.
Use the following guidelines when you are conducting all telephone reference checks, whether the candidate is a campus employee or an outside applicant:
- Introduce yourself and state the purpose of your call.
- Confirm that it is a convenient time to talk.
- Briefly describe the position for which the applicant has applied.
- Confirm the relationship between the person giving the reference and the applicant.
- Verify basic data such as job title, duties, salary, and dates of employment.
- Ask the same questions about all applicants.
- Consider the source. Remember that the information is limited by the perception of the person giving it. If you receive negative information about an applicant, weigh it with data from other references before using it to make a decision.
- What was the nature and length of your relationship with the candidate?
- How long have you known, worked with or supervised this individual?
- What were the candidate’s beginning and ending employment dates?
- Why did he or she leave the position? (If relevant.)
- Describe the candidate's main job responsibilities?
- How would you describe this person’s attendance and reliability?
- When you think of the candidate, how would you characterize him or her overall?
- What would you say are their major strengths? Areas to improve?
- In stressful situations, describe how the candidate reacted. Be specific.
- Additionally, how does this person handle difficult people? What is their conflict resolution protocol?
- From your observation, has the candidate mainly been in the role of an implementer or initiator of projects and proposals?
- How independently does the candidate work as opposed to checking in with stakeholders and supervisor?
- What are the candidate’s key accomplishments or impact on the organization?
- Does the candidate always conduct his/her dealings with others in a tactful manner? Explain.
- What are the candidate’s key accomplishments or impact on the organization?
- How would you describe this person’s technical skills?
- Describe the quality of this candidate’s written and verbal communication skills?
- How would you describe this person’s ability to meet deadlines?
- In what ways is this person a team player?
- How well did this person get along with management and peers?
- How would you describe this candidate’s attitude toward work?
- How would you describe the candidate’s overall performance?
Optional questions to ask of managers or executives
- How many people did this person directly supervise and for how long?
- Provide examples in which this person had to make sound and timely decisions. What were the results?
- How would you describe this candidate’s leadership, managerial, or supervisory skills?
- Did this person plan and administer a budget? If so, what was the size, and how did this person manage it?
- How would you describe his or her ability to plan and execute short and long term goals?
- Please describe his/her political acumen and ability to work with senior leadership?
- How would you describe his or her ability to manage up within the organization?
- How was he/she perceived by subordinates? Peers?
- Can you describe his or her involvement in attracting/hiring/retaining and developing top talent?
- Please describe an example of his or her ability to lead a team through a project or major initiative. What challenges did they face
- What impact has he or she had on the organization? In his or her department?
- What kind of legacy is this person leaving?
- What are his or her biggest accomplishments or key contributions to the organization?
- How does he or she compare with other managers or executives in similar position in your organization or comparable organizations?
- Would you describe this candidate as a visionary? Please provide examples.
- What involvement has he or she had in contributing to the strategic plan of the organization?
- How has he/she demonstrated his or her strategic thinking ability? Please provide examples.
- How would you summarize the candidate as a candidate for this position?
- Is there an experience that you have had with the candidate that is particularly memorable to you?
- What area of development would you encourage the candidate focus on?
- If you were going to provide advice on how to best guide this person what would it be?
- Would you rehire or want to work with this individual again? If no, then why?
- Is there anyone else you could recommend as a reference who might have seen him/her from a different angle?
- Is there anything else about the candidate that you think it’s important for us to know before moving forward in the process?
- Thank you so much for your help and insight. Do you mind if I contact you again in case I have additional questions?