New Best Reference Question

Good average poor

We all know the power of a great question right?

The quality of the question will dictate the value of the interaction between salesperson, coach, manager or in this instance referee. Why in that case are references often just a boilerplate, and demand cookie cutter answers? Ignoring my mixed metaphors, what I want to stress is that the information you receive in a reference is ultimately ruled by the questions you ask.

One of our values is “Continuous Improvement” so I’m always looking for ways we can do things differently to be better. With that in mind, today a great new question came to me. And based upon the quality of thinking and the answer I received, I think it’s going to become standard fare for us and totally worthy of sharing!

When it comes to interviewing I’ve always advocated and trained people in getting out of the box with questions and avoiding the yawn inducing “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, and vomit creating “What are your achievements?” In my e-book you’ll find some info and content on questions to drive a better quality of insight from the quality of questions. Check out my e-book the Art of Interviewing.

So what about references?

We’re hiring for Potentia at the moment and I was speaking to a nominated referee this week. It’s really tough to be able to get useful insight from these conversations. Ordinarily most candidates will carefully select the person. They will even possibly have coached them on what to say. However that is excluding one worthy historic conversation that I’ll share with you:

Josh – I’m calling to take a reference on John Doe
Ref – who?
Josh – John Doe – he was a body double and with you from 19fish and chips, to two thousand and oh
Ref – oh yes that’s right, he was bloody useless. I fired him.
Josh – silence. Ummmm, ok thanks for your candour!
Suffice to say that ended swiftly.

Now how do you get the best from this crucial conversation?

Well I’ll now share with you my new best question here. It’s likely to arrive at the end of the conversation, after you’ve built the rapport, gained some trust and you’re getting some off-the-record goodness! So here we go:

Josh - would you hire Jane Doe again?
Ref – yes definitely. [Of course they say this, expect your referee to be positive at the least and likely effusive. This isn’t a level playing field so it was time to turn the heat up.]
Josh – great, so what would be the first skills you’d want to develop with Jane?
Ref – silence. Steam emanating from ears (*imagined). Hmm that’s a great question. Well...

Boom! I’d gotten past the fluff, pre-prepared answers and into the good stuff. It forced her to think and answer with transparency and frankness. What’s more, she wrote the question down to use herself.

So will I hire Jane? Absolutely. I have great insight now and a fairly full picture. Then I’ll introduce her to the question...