The litigation explosion has made it harder to get candid references for job applicants, as former employers grownervous about possible lawsuits from their ex-employees. But there are things you can do to improve your chances of gettingaccurate information, reports Peter LeVine, of Framingham, Mass., who has built a business as a professional referencechecker:

* Keep your questions neutral, so you don't offend anyone or lead the reference. Don't ask, "Does she buckle under pressure?"but rather, "How does she handle pressure?"

* Avoid mentioning the job until you've discussed the applicant. Otherwise, the reference may focus on the position, not theperson.

* Don't just talk to the applicant's previous boss. Often the best information comes from peers and outsiders, such as suppliers,customers, or auditors.

* Check academic and previous job credentials. "If the candidate has lied about that," says LeVine, "I'll guarantee he or she haslied about things you can't verify."