You've just finished an interview with a job applicant and now you're alone with your impressions and a resume that gives a list of references. You'd like some additional information, especially from someone who is in a position to evaluate this person's past performance, but will anyone on that list really tell you what you need to know?

The value of reference checks is debatable, but one thing is certain: The approach you take and the questions you ask certainly affect the quality of the information you receive. Here are a few suggestions:

* Before you call, put notes down on paper, just as you might for a speech or board meeting.

* Keep questions about the candidate's work specific. General questions will produce vague answers.

* Be prepared to provide information about your company and the job you want the candidate to fill so that the reference can better evaluate the candidate's suitability for the position.

* Don't ask questions just to confirm your own opinions. Instead of asking, "Don't you agree that Bill is just right for the job?" try to find out what qualities the candidate has that might not fit the position.

* If the reference seems uncomfortable answering questions, offer to call him or her at home. If you're in the same city, you might suggest meeting for lunch.

* Listen for what is not being said. For example, if you ask, "Is Sue Brown a good salesperson?" and the reference replies, "She always finds prospects and stays organized," your question has not been answered.

Source: Harry David, H.D. Associates, a Washington, D.C., executive recruiting firm.