SHOULD REFERENCES ALWAYS SAY “GOOD” THINGS?
Most job seekers who are asked to provide references by a prospective employer tend to believe that their references should say only good things about them. That isn’t necessarily true. In fact, what job seekers should ask their references to do is to give honest answers to any questions the prospective employer asks.
Here’s a real-life example of why honesty is best. Not too long ago, we were asked to check the references of a candidate for a sound and vibration engineer’s position. The references were ideal. All three were people who were friends of the candidate, but who had also worked with him for the last several years. More importantly, all three gave honest assessments of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. In the proverbial nutshell, all three references said the candidate was one of the most knowledgeable and capable sound and vibration engineers they had ever known. But all three also said the candidate had trouble getting along with nearly everyone – that he tended to look down his nose at fellow employees and to radiate an arrogance that was extremely offensive to others.
Ordinarily, one might think comments like those would be enough to disqualify the candidate from further consideration for the job the company so desperately needed to fill. But because they were so desperate, plus being alerted to his difficulty working with others, the company hired him anyway! Why? At least they knew whom they were getting – both the good and the bad. So, how did they handle this potentially awkward situation? First, they gave the new sound and vibration engineer an office of his own and, essentially, kept him away from other engineers in the group. Figuratively speaking, they practically slid new projects under his door! But, at the same time, the company encouraged him to enroll in what was essentially a Dale Carnegie course as part of their career development “plan” for him – which he did.
After about six weeks, he began to realize that he had an abrasive personality and, eventually, improved his interpersonal skill to such an extent that he was moved out of the office and was able to supervise a team of engineers successfully.
Imagine if his references had lied about him and said he had a great personality and the company had hired him unaware of his abrasive style. All sorts of problems could have resulted from their dishonesty. The way it was, the company was able to take what amounted to constructive corrective action and turn a potentially disastrous situation into a win-win situation for both parties.
This true story is a perfect example of why people seeking employment should encourage references to give the prospective employers honest answers and not just say “good” things about them.