In the last couple of years I’ve been getting more reference calls about people with whom I’ve worked. I always thought providing references would be a straightforward task but often it isn’t. A lot of it has to do with the questions I’m asked. A common one is “Would you hire this person again?” I think that’s a very strange question, because it’s conditional on so many factors: like what the job is and who else is applying for it. Even somebody who was a very good worker could be in competition with someone more qualified.
I’m also asked questions I couldn’t possibly answer. Today I got a call about an applicant for a position in a remote area. If, I was asked, a hiker came to this remote area and had a heart attack and died (which could happen), how do I think the applicant would be able to deal with it? I am not a psychologist, certainly I am not the applicant’s psychologist, and if I was the answer might not be knowable. To be fair, even seasoned rescue workers need counseling when things like that happen.
Asking reference questions is as much of an art as answering them.