Recently I mentioned that a third benefit of careful reference checking is to use the results as a career development tool. Upon reflection, I thought it might be useful to offer a real-life illustration of just how that works.
I recall doing a reference report on a candidate who was being considered for a position as a senior design engineer. Part of the requirements of the job included being able to make effective presentations to top management and also to prospective clients. To make a long story short, all three references consistently described the candidate as being very professional and thoroughly trained and as having solid experience in a design engineer position. However, when I asked what the candidate needed to do to continue his professional growth, two of the three references said emphatically that he needed to polish his presentation skills because he just wasn’t a very convincing or effective speaker. The third reference didn’t even need that much prompting. When I asked if there were any areas in which the candidate needed to improve, she immediately cited his presentation skills!
So, did the lack of skill in making presentations knock this candidate out of further consideration for employment? Absolutely not! The prospective employer was sufficiently impressed with the other aspects of past job performance that the candidate was hired anyway. But the company almost immediately got him enrolled in a public speaking course at a nearby college. After just one semester, not only did the individual significantly improve his speaking skills, but also he voluntarily enrolled in another speaking course to enhance his ability to make forceful and effective presentations further.
Armed with the knowledge of what the candidate needed to advance his career and meet the requirements of the job, the question must be asked, “Did the reference report enable the employer to increase the candidate’s value to the organization?” You bet it did! I would also suggest that, without checking references, there was no other way the prospective employer could have obtained that information and avoided what could have been a job mismatch. Armed with the information about what the candidate needed, both parties ended up as winners!