Ask these questions for better reference calls.

“Where do you see this person in 3 years?”

Most people say 5 years. But that’s too long. 3 years gets the reference thinking about ideal shorter-term outcomes for the candidate. Focus on getting intel that will help you be an impactful manager.

“When was the last time you didn’t see eye-to-eye?”

It’s a softer way to ask how the candidate deals with conflict. And you’ll get a specific example, which will be more helpful than a broad, non-specific description of their conflict resolution skills.

“What are some ways you’ve seen them be helpful to others?”

It’s a nice way to get tactical examples of how they build relationships.

“Tell me about a time you coached them on something.”

The reference person will relive a memory. You’ll get their honest reaction. You may learn how the candidate responds to feedback. This prompt is also framed more collaboratively than: “Where do they need improvement?”

“How would you rate the candidate on a scale of 1-10? You can’t say 7!”

This pushes them to answer with 6 (just above average) or 8 (very good). It reveals more than you’d think. And if they say 9, they might clue you in on a skill that you can coach your candidate on.

“What’s a skill you’ve seen them grow?”

You’ll get a sense of how the candidate learns and how self-directed they are.

“What advice do you have for me as a manager to help them be successful in this role?”

It’s an opportunity for free people management advice. Take it. Plus, it’s a constructive yet subtle way to learn about potential weaknesses.

From @amandanat on X.

Most people will say only positive things about the candidate. If you ask “are they good at X” or “are they bad at Y” you won’t get what you’re looking for. Instead, ask balanced questions like “does this person work better in a group or by themselves”.