Now, here’s how reference checking can help you avoid getting burned! I recall an instance several years ago where we were asked to check references on a candidate for a marketing manager’s position. All three references had consistently positive things to say about every aspect of the candidate’s overall job performance over time.
The candidate was hired and almost immediately began to experience difficulty. The problems had nothing to do with the quality of his work, but were the result of the increased volume of work that had to be done and the pace at which things moved within the company. In a nutshell, the new-hire simply could not keep up with the demands of the job.
When we went back to look for clues that might have been in the reference report, we noted a remark about how meticulous the candidate was in terms of his attention to detail. One reference talked about how deliberate the candidate was and how committed he was to going the extra mile to do the best job possible. A third reference said the only thing the candidate needed for his career advancement was learning to manage more than one task at a time – to be able to “keep more than one ball in the air.”
As isolated bits of information, none of the foregoing comments suggested the candidate could not handle a high-volume, fast-paced environment. Upon reflection, however, that should have emerged as a concern to the prospective employer – if not to us!
It was at that point that we started paying a lot more attention to the value of understanding the nature of the job into which the candidate would be placed, as well as the nature of the corporate culture. The client didn’t mention that the environment was fast-paced or that the volume of work to be done was unusually high. And that’s because the employer didn’t perceive it that way. To him, the pace and volume of work were perfectly normal. The result was an unintentional job mismatch.
The point, of course, is that the more the employer understands the culture of his own organization – not just in theory but in practice – the less the likelihood of a job mismatch. In the foregoing example there were definitely clues the candidate really wasn’t right for the job. But no one caught it. The result was the new-hire was terminated. Did the experience hurt the candidate’s subsequent job prospects? No, not really. The net effect was that the candidate gained a higher level of awareness about the type of organization for which he would be best suited – a place that required attention to detail and thoroughness – and it also highlighted his need to learn to manage more than one project at a time!