Reference Checks

Why not?  Here’s a perfect illustration of why job seekers should not coach their references on what to say when a prospective employer calls: suppose a job seeker advises a buddy and coworker of long standing who has agreed to be a job reference for him to be sure and just say positive things about him if the prospective employer (or its agents) calls – no matter what the question happens to be.  On the surface that request would seem to make sense from the job seeker’s perspective – saying good things should enhance the job seekers chances of landing the job.  Right?  Not necessarily!

Now, let’s assume somebody really does call on behalf of the prospective employer and asks the reference how well the job seeker performed task X.  With only the best intentions in mind, the reference says how great the job seeker was doing task X and that he’s never known anyone to perform task X with more skill and attention to detail.  Next, let’s suppose that the ability to do task X is essential to success on the new job.

Here’s where the problem arises!  Let’s say that the job seeker doesn’t know the first thing about doing task X, but is hired on the basis of a reference’s statement about how great the job seeker was doing task X.  What is the likely outcome?  The job seeker is hired and totally falls on his face attempting to do task X, about which he knows nothing.  As a result our former job seeker is fired and completely thrown off his career path and, down the road, will have to explain why he was fired!  There’s no pleasant way out of this – and it’s all because the unemployed job seeker asked his reference to say just good things about him.

What could have prevented this tragic turn of events?  Honesty.  Why on earth would a job seeker ever try to exact a promise to say nothing but positive comments from a reference and run the risk of an outcome like the one just suggested?  It would have been far better for the job seeker merely to have asked his buddy and coworker to answer any questions from a prospective employer, or its agents, honestly.

Yes, it’s true that the job seeker might not have gotten the job, but in retrospect it’s pretty clear that the job seeker wasn’t the right candidate for the job to be filled; and, by the same token, the job wasn’t a good match for the job seeker’s skill set.

The moral: don’t coach references!