4 unusual questions you can ask an IT reference

In the fast-paced world of tech, just inquiring about an applicant's strengths and weaknesses is no longer sufficient.


The candidate compared to others

For example: If you think of the best coder you have worked with, how does X compare to him or her?

The goal of asking this question is not to get the reference to claim that the candidate is the best coder they know. The goal is to put the reference's impression of the candidate into a more nuanced context.

As the candidate has chosen their own reference, there is a high likelihood that they have a good relation. As a result, the reference may be more likely to speak positively of the candidate in order to help them advance in their career.

By asking the referanse to compare the candidate to other colleagues, you make it easier for them to provide specific and honest reflections while still giving a positive review.

The candidate’s impact on the workplace

For example: What value will we miss out on if we don't hire X?

The aim here is to find out what influence the candidate has had with previous employers. Some references will immediately start talking about social contributions, especially if the candidate did not excel technically. Try to dive deeper into the professional value the reference is missing now that the candidate has left their team.

A follow-up question could be "what was the first thing you noticed when X entered your production?". If the reference can't think of anything, then "no answer" is also an answer you should take into account.

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The candidate's potential

For example: Where do you see X in 5 years and what should he or she do more of to get there?

This is difficult for the reference to answer! So feel free to help them with suggestions for potential future roles, both internally in your company and in the industry in general. The question gives an understanding of what a third party who knows the candidate thinks about their potential, but it will also reveal what they think about the candidate's ambitions and potential for improvement. Use this question as a springboard to learn more.

The candidate's motivation

For example: What can I do to keep X for at least 5 years?

Understanding what motivates the candidate is key to retaining them for the long term. By asking this question, you can gain valuable insights into what drives them and what factors contribute to their well-being. Follow up on their answer to delve deeper into their motivations and find out what you can do to keep them at your company.

You can also mention the benefits and measures your company currently has in place and ask if the reference can think of any additional perks that the candidate may have appreciated. Don't be afraid to be specific about topics such as salary, shares, conference opportunities, social events, and health benefits.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn from others in the industry without the subject feeling like they are being questioned by a competitor. The reference is more likely to brag about the success they've had with their measures, than to be secretive in their answers.

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