Checking references can be a valuable part of the hiring process if we take the time to ask good questions. 

Bringing a new staff member or volunteer into your pregnancy center team can be an exciting prospect. New team members bring fresh energy and new ideas, they help shoulder the ministry’s burdens, and they add skills and experiences to your team’s dynamics.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of adding someone to the team, but it is important to slow down and take our time. The old adage of “hire slow, fire fast” is true – we want to take our time to discern and decipher if adding this new team member is best for the organization. We might find ourselves wanting to skip steps in the process (especially when we’re facing a vacancy in a critical position) but it’s better to take our time than to hire the wrong person.

Checking references for a potential applicant may seem like simply checking a box, but we would be wise to make the most of this part of the hiring process. Yes, the references an applicant gives us may be biased toward the individual (it is highly unlikely that someone would write down a reference they weren’t certain would give a glowing report), but there is still valuable information we can glean from a quick phone call to them.

1. Background: How does the reference know the applicant? What length of time? What types of responsibilities have they observed the applicant carrying out?

This gives you the opportunity to gain some context about the relationship, including the weight and value of their responses. If the reference has worked alongside the applicant in a similar position to the one they are seeking with your organization, pay close attention. If their interactions have been more casual in nature, listen between the lines to discern what type of personality you might be bringing onto the team.

2. Skills: What are the applicants strengths? What did they bring to their previous organization that no one else could? How quickly were they able to pick up new skills?

This is your chance to go beyond the resume and find out more about the applicant’s skills and abilities – including their ability to add new skills to their repertoire. Take your time to find out what really stands out to the reference about the applicant.

3. Organizational Fit: What were the applicant’s interactions with their co-workers like? Did they work well with others? How did they handle conflict resolution?

This is your chance to get a feel for the “intangibles” – the things that may not be included in a resume and may not be immediately apparent in an interview. Ask for stories and examples that give you a glimpse into the applicant’s character and demeanor.

4. Bottom Line: Would you hire this applicant again for a similar role? For a different role? Why do you think we should hire this applicant? Do you have any hesitations in recommending this applicant? What is important for us to know about how to help this applicant succeed?

Hopefully, at this point in the conversation, you have developed a rapport with the reference that allows you to ask some tougher questions and get honest responses. If you are leaning toward hiring the applicant, take some time to find out how to best motivate and encourage them once they are part of the team.

Checking references can be a valuable part of the hiring process if we take the time to ask good questions. The feedback you receive can give you confidence about a hiring decision or will make you aware of potential issues that can help you avoid pitfalls down the road. It’s important to remember that God will bring the right person for the position – in His timing, not ours!


Callie Cowan Headshot.jpgCallie Cowan has been the Executive Director of Pregnancy Solutions in Southwest Florida since 2012. Pregnancy Solutions has three locations across two counties. Callie’s background as an attorney gives her a unique perspective and approach to pregnancy center ministry. She and her husband Nate have three children who are 6, 5, and 2 years of age.