David Blumenthal puts his own spin on reference checking: he insists that serious job candidates call his references to get a true picture of Flash Creative Management, his $2-million information-technology company, in River Edge, N.J. "Call these people and they'll tell you the type of company you're getting involved with," he instructs them. "No holds barred on questions." References are usually Flash's customers. "Every person we hire goes through this process," he says. Why? Blumenthal has three reasons:

1. He wants candidates to understand his commitment to customer service and what he expects of employees. "If a customer says, 'Flash went to the ends of the earth for us,' that tells the candidate, 'When you join this company, you do whatever it takes to make the customer happy," he explains. In at least one instance, recalls Blumenthal, that revelation prompted a promising candidate to withdraw.

2. It's a second round of interviews. Blumenthal asks his customers for their opinions of prospective hires. Did the candidate ask intelligent questions? Would the customer feel comfortable working with that applicant? As each of Flash's 23 employees has some form of direct client contact, it's important that everyone establish a good rapport with customers.

3. The process reveals prospective employees' willingness to take direction and the strength of their commitment to Flash. "It's the first manifestation of their relationship with the company," says Blumenthal. "If I ask them to call references and they don't, I get a different message."