Questions For Referees When Reference Checking a New PA

Published on September 19, 2017

Hiring a new PA for your office or family is an exciting process, but can often be a tiring one too. Firstly, to find the right candidate that would deem to be suitable for the role, then to go through the process of reading, selecting and rejecting CVs, spending a lot of valuable time interviewing people, and finally, making sure to ask the right questions for referees.

Why Check References?

A mistake that many people make when selecting a new PA, is not completing a full recruitment process. It can feel natural to offer someone the job who has a great CV, excellent educational background and where the connection felt ‘right’. However, to get a complete idea of the candidate, reference checking is crucial.

Firstly, let’s talk a little bit about the different types of references and what to expect.

Written References

A PA might provide written references from former employers which give you a good start – the fact that former employers have made the effort to write and provide references is normally a good sign. It doesn’t, however, give you full security just yet – all written references should be verified. Do not just assume these references are all truthful.

All written references should be verified. Do not just assume these references are all truthful. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, you cannot assume that all the information provided is correct. Ask for email addresses and phone numbers of the referees, so you can verify the reference.

Just Contact Details

A candidate might just provide a phone number or an email address from a previous employer. This is not a problem, but when you speak to the referee, try to have a list of questions for referees ready (as below), so all your questions can be answered.

Character References

Character references are references written/provided by a personal connection to the candidate.  This could be a friend, family member or former colleague – a character reference is never from a former employer. Character references might be a good addition to a selection of professional references from previous jobs. However, do keep in mind that character references do not necessarily give an unbiased opinion of the candidate.

Temp, Long-Term and Recent References

Finally, be critical of the quality of the reference. There is a big difference between a reference from a temp role, where the PA maybe worked as cover for a week or a long-term, full-time role within a family or company.

Although references for short-term and temp roles can definitely be useful, especially if these are from recent jobs, make sure the candidate does give you the contact details of recent long term employments. If there are no recent jobs, or every role been short term – ask why. There might be a very plausible explanation for this (perhaps the candidate was studying, or having other responsibilities at the time) but it is important to get clarity on this.

Questions for Referees

Confirm the exact dates of employment?
Although this might seem simple and straight forward, many people assume that what the PA says on a CV is correct. Make sure the referee confirms the correct dates.

Why was the employment terminated?
It might have been a temp role, there might have been a completely plausible reason, but hearing from the previous employer why the candidate is no longer there will give you an interesting insight. Were there any specific reasons regarding skill or behaviour? And are you still in touch with the candidate? These are all important questions for referees.

What was the exact job description?
PA roles can be extremely varied in different settings, and there are big differences between a private PA, family PA and a corporate PA. Ask about the tasks they were performing, and consider if these are similar to what you are looking for. Think about diary management, phone calls, welcoming guests, organisation of meetings and events, managing contractors when in a private setting and dealing with children.

Outstanding knowledge and skills?
A great open question to get more information out of the referee – give them time in answering this question and just let them speak. This will enable the referee to think freely rather than just answering your closed questions and it can give you more of an insight into the employer-employee relationship, and the impression the candidate made.

What areas could they improve on?
Try to see if there are any big problem areas you haven’t already uncovered from your previous questions for referees, or during the previous stages of the recruitment process. If there were any skills you were doubtful of, this is a great time to ask the referee about them too.

Character and behaviour?
Think about punctuality. Are they friendly to be around? Were they flexible with hours or changing tasks, organised, and willing to go the extra mile when needed?

Would you re-employ them if the situation arose, and would you recommend them for a similar role?
This could be an area for potential red flags so make sure you include this in your list of questions for referees. If the referee states they would not re-hire the candidate or they would not recommend the PA for a similar role then it would be clear that you should possibly not employ them either. Ask for explanations in this case.

At Polo & Tweed, we have interviewed and reference checked many PA’s (as well as many other types of candidates!) so always ask the right questions for referees. If you have any questions about the process, or if you would like us to take over your search and selection completely, please do drop us a line – and we would be more than happy to help you further!

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