Reference Checks

The final installment on this topic is about a commonsense approach to involving the candidate in the hiring process. One of the major concerns many job seekers have is their fear about what their references might say about them. That fear is usually founded on some basically false assumptions—namely, that:

  • Prospective employers will call supervisors with whom they didn’t particularly get along.
  • A former boss will intentionally sabotage their job chances through some perverse desire for revenge.
  • Some references with only a limited knowledge of their overall job performance will not provide an accurate description of just how well they did their job.

All these concerns can be minimized if the prospective employer defines the parameters of the reference-checking process and leaves it up to the job seeker to stay within them.

On the other side of the table is the fear among employers that if they ask the candidate to provide work-related references, they will somehow have been coached to just say good things about the job seeker. What’s needed is the understanding that a prospective employer has every right to specify the types of references desired from the job seeker! Following this line of reasoning actually eliminates most of the trepidation on the part of the job seeker who is worried about what references will say. Remember, the job seeker—within employer-defined limits—gets to choose his own references.

The prospective employer should specifically request references that include a former superior, a peer, and a subordinate. (If the job seeker has never had others working under his supervision, two co-workers or two former supervisors can be substituted.) Then it’s up to the prospective employer to ask the right questions.

Even if references only want to say good things about the job seeker, which becomes very hard to do if only open-ended questions are asked! For example, one open-ended question could be, “What does so-and-so need to do to continue his own career growth?” Or, “How would describe so-and-so’s management style?” It’s practically impossible for a reference to second guess what sort of response for which the prospective employer is looking. Furthermore, by involving the job seeker in the process the fears and concerns on both sides of the equation are defused, eliminating the old biases against the value of real reference checking!