Types of Communication Barriers in Reference Interviews

Talking with strangers over the phone isn't always easy.
i Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

You may be ready to hire that job candidate right after the interview -- but take a moment to put the brakes on. Even if you're convinced that she's the one, don't forget to check her references. In the best-case scenario, the references she provided will give you the information you need to make a solid decision; in the worst-case scenario, any number of communication barriers can make the conversation a waste of time.

Body Language

In most cases, you're going to check on a candidate's references via telephone. You may get some idea of the reference's enthusiasm for the candidate through her inflection, you're not going to be able to use any non-verbal cues as additional clues. Telephone conversations mean you won't get the benefits of seeing a reference's body language. According to body language expert Dr. Albert Mehrabian, facial expressions convey 55 percent of the feelings and attitudes behind a message, while inflection conveys about 38 percent, and the actual words, just 7 percent.


It's also tough to know when a candidate is being truthful about the references she's providing. In the most egregious cases, the candidate will simply give a friend or relative a list of information or possible responses which that person will use should he be called as a reference. In other words, it's tough to verify the reference's honesty over the phone. If you suspect a reference is a personal friend or is slanting her responses in favor of the candidate, ask deeper questions following the initial response. Ask why the interviewee thinks that way, or ask her to provide a specific example to illustrate her point, advises the recruiting site Ere Media.

Culture and Language

Cultural and language barriers are another big issue with reference checks, according to the recruiting site Ere Media. In the global economy, job candidates may have worked in many different parts of the world. Thus, the communication barriers you face when checking references may actually be language barriers. The person at the other end of the line may simply not speak the same language you do -- or the company handles references in a much different way in their country. If you're running into this issue and the reference check is imperative, talk to the candidate to get ideas on translators or other methods of translating the reference's responses.

Legal Issues

Former employers may be concerned about the legal issues involved with reference checking, and may provide only minimal information. When an employer is concerned with being sued for defamation, she may only provide the most minimal information. These "stonewallers," as they're called by California State University's Division of Administration and Finance, may only disclose the dates the person worked there, the person's job title and her salary -- not really information that's going to help you determine whether this person is a good candidate for your position. Also, make sure you're staying within the bounds of the law in what you ask. You can ask about the candidate's job performance, but not to ask about the candidate's hobbies, marital status, medical issues or children during a job interview, advises the Vermont Department of Human Resources.

the nest