Reference Checks


        If you’re in the midst of a job search, one of the key things to remember is always to ASK the people you would like to be references for you if they will do it before listing them as references.  One of the worst mistakes a job seeker can make is listing people as references without asking their permission.

Here’s a perfect example of why.  Several years ago, we were asked to prepare a reference report on a candidate for a management position.  One of the references he had listed was a senior vice president.  When that person was called, his first comment was, “I can’t imagine why so-and-so would list me as a reference.  I only saw him once or twice a year when he worked for us.  I have no idea how well he did his job.  We were at least three levels removed from each other.”  What does a response like that tell you?  Well, first it pretty much suggests that the job seeker wasn’t expecting anybody to actually call his references so he picked people high enough in the organization to look “impressive.”  It also suggests that the job seeker didn’t ask the person he listed as a reference if he would be willing to serve in that capacity.  Last, it put his integrity into question for listing someone, betting that a prospective employer wouldn’t call!

Even if the references you list are people from a business where you used to work or people who have retired or moved on to another company, it’s still important to ask them if they’ll be references for you.  Assuming that a good buddy won’t mind having his name on the list of references you provide is always a mistake.  People who don’t know you’ve listed them as references are less likely even to answer the prospective employer’s call – because they won’t know the reason for the call or who the person calling is!

I recall a reference call to an individual who, upon being told the reason for the call, said, “I can’t imagine why he would put me down as a reference.  I fired him!”  Obviously, the job seeker had made a terrible choice of references and didn’t ask the person to be a reference beforehand.  If the job seeker had known what this particular reference was going to say, it seems unlikely that he would have put him on his list of references to be contacted!

The way to avoid these and similar problems is simply to ask the appropriate people first if they would be willing to serve as a reference for you.  If they say “yes,” then all that’s required is asking them just to give honest answers to any questions they are asked.  That’s all there is to it!