Reference Checks


As a follow-up to the story I did about references who are unwilling to talk, there’s another potential problem when a candidate is still working for the same employer and has worked there for, let’s say, at least the last ten years.  Most job applications have a question that reads something like, “May we contact your current employer?”  Many job candidates, for obvious reasons, probably don’t want the boss to know they’re looking for other employment opportunities.  In a situation like that, how does a potential candidate provide references without letting the proverbial “cat out of the bag”?

Here are some suggestions that may help.  First, if a person has worked for the same employer for ten years, one would think that he/she would have made a number of good friends among fellow employees, some of whom can be taken into confidence and will be glad to serve as a reference and keep the request to themselves.

If a potential reference is reluctant to take a call at work, see if he or she will take a call at home in the evening or on a weekend.  It should also be made clear that no one is asking the reference to speak on behalf of his/her employer, but only to offer his/her own honestly held opinions or pass on just factual information.  If a reference is asked what the candidate’s responsibilities were on the job, for example, there’s not much reason to be less than candid.  The proverbial “widget polishing” was either part of the job or it wasn’t!

Other sources of potential references include people with whom the candidate has worked who have retired, taken other jobs, or moved to other divisions of the company.  The point is anybody who has worked for the same employer for at least ten years should be able to think of at least three current or former coworkers, supervisors, or subordinates who can safely be asked to be references.  If that can’t be done, a red flag ought to go up about the candidate’s employability.