Reference Checks


Not long ago, I authored a piece about the importance of encouraging the people you ask to be references for you to give honest answers to any questions asked by a prospective employer.  The primary focus of the article was to avoid a situation in which a reference raves about skills you don’t have in an effort to help you land a particular job.  The problem, of course, is that, if you’re hired based – at least in part – on the belief that you have skills you really don’t have, you could fall on your face when the new employer expects you to be able to handle a task easily your references said you could do.

But there’s another, even more important reason why you want your references to be honest when talking to a prospective employer.  Let’s say the prospective employer hears from all your references that your skills as a sound and vibration engineer are outstanding – and that they truly are!  On the other hand, let’s say that your public speaking skills aren’t very good, but that being able to address gatherings of other engineers is going to be a significant part of your new job.

As a final touch, let’s also say that all your references confirm that your skills as a speaker leave a lot to be desired. While your initial reaction might be to wish that your references had stretched the truth about your speaking skills a little, the fact that they gave honest answers may actually help you!  How?  If the employer knows in advance that your technical skills are outstanding, the fact that you clutch when called upon to speak may be a job killer at all.  The employer may realize that lack of public speaking skills is a correctable flaw that can easily be remedied.  Not only that, being made aware of the need to improve your ability as a speaker before the fact will make it possible for the employer to discuss the problem with you and make arrangements for you to take a course in public speaking before you are sent out into the world by the employer on the mistaken assumption that you can comfortably handle talking to groups.  That’s a far better scenario than sending you out and having you stumble through a speech, making yourself and your new employer look bad.

By knowing about an area that needs improvement beforehand, the prospective employer can help you get the additional training you need to handle all aspects of the job successfully.  Not finding out about the deficiency until later has all sorts of negative implications for you and for your new employer – all of which can be avoided by asking your references to give honest answers to the questions they’re asked by a prospective employer.

So, overstating or, for that matter, understating your qualifications, skills, and experience – or any other job-related quality – is never something you want your references to do, well intentioned or otherwise!