Reference Checks


Occasionally, candidates for employment, especially for high level positions, are offended when a prospective employer asks him/her to provide references.  It doesn’t happen very often; but, when it does, it ought to be a red flag for the prospective employer.  Why?  Most people who are who they claim to be and who have done what they claim are usually proud of their accomplishments and more than happy to provide the names of people who can attest to their career success.
More importantly, especially from the prospective employer’s perspective, checking references of candidates for high level positions can disclose subtle personality quirks that have contributed to the candidate’s success, but have also made him or her particularly difficult to deal with on a daily basis.  That’s information the prospective employer needs to know in advance to ensure that the hiring decision is the right one.
I recall one instance several years ago where the candidate was one of the most highly regarded people in his field.  He was, for all intents and purposes, highly insulted that anybody would want to talk to his references.  On the other hand, he wanted the job, so he reluctantly provided the names of appropriate references who could be contacted – all highly regarded in the same field as the candidate.  To make a long story short, all of his references said he was brilliant but temperamental and very difficult to deal with, but that there was no question about his ability.  Armed with that knowledge, the prospective employer hired the individual anyway, but did it with the full knowledge that he would be difficult to deal with, so they were able to make adjustments in the work setting to minimize the likelihood of internal conflict.  It was far better for the employer to know going into the relationship what they could expect than to be surprised by it later!

The other reason for the red flag to go up when candidates for senior level positions are indignant about being asked for references is that they may not be all they claim to be!  In another case, the candidate had an impressive list of accomplishments, including an extensive list of scholarly papers he had authored.  He also claimed to have earned a degree from Tel Aviv University in 1950, which was fine, except for the fact that the university wasn’t founded until 1953!   Most of the information on his resume, upon closer scrutiny, proved to be false; and many of the awards he claimed couldn’t be verified.  But because he presented himself as an accomplished scholar and academician, he had managed to bluff his way into numerous positions.
The bottom line of this piece is that, if a candidate for a high level position is offended by a request to supply references, a red flag should probably go up because, more than likely, something is amiss!