It's true that some bosses are reluctant to talk about former employees because they fear lawsuits if they give a bad review. But attitudes are changing. More states are passing laws that provide immunity from liability to businesses that provide references. And courts are giving employers more protection from defamation lawsuits.
Once you reach that reference on the phone, what should you ask? Here are nine questions to help elicit the info you need:
1. Is X eligible to be rehired? If not, is this because your company has a general policy against rehiring employees, or is there another reason?
2. Would you enthusiastically recommend X?
3. How would you compare X's work habits with those of her co-workers?
4. What do you think would be the ideal job for X?
5. Did X function better at your company working alone or as part of a team?
6. What, if anything, distinguishes X from others who do the same type of job?
7. What can we expect from X if she works for us?
8. What were X's primary job responsibilities?
9. During the course of X's employment at your company, were you her direct supervisor the entire time? If not, who were the other supervisors?