Reference Checks


Somebody recently made an interesting comment about “coaching” one’s references to make sure they say the things you want them to say when a prospective employer calls.  I thought to myself, “Are you kidding?  You want to coach your references about what to say about your job performance?”  I’m sorry, but that makes no sense at all.  Let’s suppose you’ve asked a friend and co-worker to serve as a reference for you.  Let’s also suppose that person agrees.  Does it really make sense for you to say things like, “Now, I know I’ve never done X before; but, if anybody calls from Y company, I want you to tell them that I’m really great at X.”  Who’s doing whom the greater disservice here?  If you get hired on the basis of a well-intentioned lie and the new employer expects you to be great doing X, and you have no idea how to perform that task, what’s the likely outcome going to be?  Looking foolish perhaps?  Getting fired maybe?  On the other hand, how chagrined will the hiring manager be who’s confronted by your supervisor who says, “This clown has no idea how to do X!  Why did you hire him for a task like that?”

Or does it make any sense to try and coach a reference to describe you as outgoing and gregarious when you’re really shy and retiring?  I think there’s a real chance the person you asked to serve as a reference will decline to serve in that capacity when asked to be less than honest.  The central idea behind reference checking is to help ensure that the candidate is the right person for the job to be done – and that the job is also right for the candidate, not trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole.  Both parties – candidate and employer – are likely to lose in a situation like that!  Suppose the most important quality the successful candidate needs is an outgoing engaging personality.  Next, suppose you’ve convinced your references to lie and say that’s the way you are when they really know you’re terribly shy – and that on the basis of their comments, you get the job and fail miserably at it because you’re too shy to carry it out.  Whose career gets hurt?  Certainly not your references and certainly not the employer.  That leaves you with the tarnished career because you were hired for a job that really wasn’t right for YOU and all because you coached your references to be less than honest about your personality.

So, coaching references about what to say about you makes no sense at all!  It’s far better to simply ask your references to give honest answers to any questions asked by a prospective employer.  Remember what the reference checking objective really is – it’s to make sure the right person is hired for the right job – not just to be hired for a position at which you might fail.  Honesty, as always, is still the best policy!