“What do you want me to say about you?”

According to hiring consultant and trainer Nelson Scott, this is typically the first question people ask when they agree to be a reference. How then are managers supposed to get any useful information from them? In the latest Mediabistro feature, workplace experts give advice on how to interview a prospect’s cheerleaders. Below, an excerpt:

“If you were to give her one piece of career advice, what would it be?”

This hypothetical question was suggested by David Gaspin, talent acquisition manager for TheLadders.com, who advises focusing as much on imperfections as star qualities. Another example: “Under what conditions have you seen her struggle or get stressed out?”

Junge likes the idea of putting such questions in a mentoring context, rather than just asking for a candidate’s biggest flaws. “Everyone has weaknesses, but most references couch their real concerns,” he said. “Asking a reference where they would focus their coaching efforts gets to a similar place, but is far more likely to produce practical, actionable feedback.”

For more, read What to Ask a Job Candidate’s References. [subscription required]