By Joe Crowe

When hiring, a factor in determining an applicant’s quality is his or her job references. When you contact them, ideally you hear good things about the applicant. But what happens if the reference provides only great comments, maybe too great? Is it possible for a job reference to be too good? The answer is, well, maybe. Here are five things you want to hear from references, and the ways that they may take it too far.

From a former employer

Former employers are a vital reference, as they can tell you about an applicant’s work ethic, what their job was, and how well they did it, according to Glassdoor. If an employer says the applicant won a certain number of awards or achieved some sales record, that should be relatively easy to verify.

From a supervisor

A supervisor may know more about the day-to-day work of an applicant than an employer. The supervisor is more likely to be in the thick of the job with the applicant. While a supervisor might speak highly about the applicant’s value as a team member, that might raise more questions. Consider asking the supervisor, “If this teammate was so valuable, did you fight to keep them in the company? Why or why not?”

From a colleague or co-worker

A colleague or co-worker is on the same level as the applicant. However, that co-worker could go too far down a path of telling stories about working with the applicant that might not be helpful, even as the colleague attempts to speak well of the applicant.
Listen closely for nuggets that speak to the applicant’s character in those stories, such as a time when the applicant helped out a coworker, stepped up and took on an important role, or was generous or kind when a coworker needed help.

From an advisor or a teacher

School is a different animal than the workplace. Hearing from someone who knew the applicant in school can provide a fuller picture of their career trajectory. If a teacher or advisor discusses great things the applicant did in school, look at whether the applicant has been able to succeed in the workplace at a similar level.

From a volunteer position

Volunteer positions can provide excellent references, according to Snag A Job. Volunteering doesn’t usually pay well, or at all. Try to find out from the volunteer group why the applicant chose them; it could provide a showcase for the applicant’s good character — or a red flag for an applicant’s improper motivation. Hearing from a number of references provides a clearer picture of an applicant. Hopefully, even the most glowing references, when taken together, can provide a picture of an applicant with a bright future at your company.

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