WHAT IF REFERENCES WON’T TALK?
If you’re an employer anxious to hire the best people and you require candidates for employment to supply job-related references, what do you do if a reference refuses to talk to you? Do you just let it go and base your hiring decision on nothing more than the resume and a job interview? Do you assume there’s a major problem with the candidate who supplied the references? Or do you drop the candidate from further consideration for employment?
The correct answer, if one cares to think of it as a multiple choice dilemma, is “none of the above.” Why? Because providing references who will talk is the candidate’s responsibility! My recommendation to every employer who contacts a reference who declines, or totally refuses, to answer any questions about the candidate is to call the candidate and say something like, “If you’re interested in this job, you’ll need to contact so-and-so and convince him/her to chat with me about your past job performance. And if that can’t be done, provide the name and contact information of someone else you’ve worked with on a day-to-day basis within the last five to seven years who will agree to be interviewed.”
The responsibility for providing appropriate references falls squarely on the shoulders of the candidate. It is up to him/her to identify, contact, and provide the type of references with whom the prospective employer wants to talk – and to make sure the people chosen will take the call and respond to questions from the prospective employer.
On its face, it would seem thoughtless for job seekers to list the names of references without first asking them if they will serve as references. An amazing number of people seeking employment, however, really do list people as references without having asked them first or put down the names of the next door neighbor, the minister, or a sixth grade teacher. Common sense would seem to dictate that references ought to be people who are familiar with the job seeker’s past job performance, but a significant number of people seeking employment apparently don’t think employers are likely to bother calling references. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While job seekers are responsible for providing appropriate references willing to talk, the prospective employer also has the responsibility for making it clear to job seekers that not only will references be checked, but also the type of people asked to serve as references will be checked.
One of the biggest red flags for employers is a situation when an apparently qualified job seeker claims he or she can’t provide any references willing to serve as references. In over 32 years in the reference checking business, I have yet to see a serious candidate for employment who could not come up with an acceptable set of references. If that were to happen, however, my advice to the prospective employer would be to start looking for another candidate!