How to Get the Most Out of References
by Jill Granberry
The phrase “your reputation precedes you” is especially true when talking about employment references. According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, more than eight out of ten human resource professionals said that they regularly conduct reference checks for professional (89 percent), executive (85 percent), administrative (84 percent), and technical (81 percent) positions.
If the conventional wisdom holds that candidates are going to choose references that will only say positive things, are references necessary and helpful?
The answer is yes. But following these suggestions can help you to get the most out of references, whether you are an employer or a candidate.
Employer Steps for Success
How can employers get the best information from references?
- Inform selected candidates that you plan to contact at least three references including a manager, a peer, and a subordinate. This allows the candidate appropriate time to prepare.
- For executive leadership roles, ask to speak to a previous board member. For sales leadership roles, ask to speak to a previous client.
- Secure the candidate’s written permission to contact their references.
- Ask the candidate to provide complete information, including the name of the person, the company where they worked together, length of time worked together, the candidate’s title, and the reference’s current telephone number and email.
Ask the right questions to receive meaningful feedback.
- Use the same questions for each reference call. This helps to identify patterns across managers, peers, and subordinates. Follow-up questions help to probe if you have areas of concern.
- Focus your reference check questions on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors necessary for the role.
- Since this will be your first time working with this person, ask questions about what kind of colleague will this person be. What will they bring to the role, the team, and the company?
- Ask about the person’s professional development and how they respond to constructive feedback or mentoring.
- We recommend asking, “Knowing what you know now, would you hire and work with this person again, and why?” This typically generates a more comprehensive response than, “Is this person eligible for rehire?”
Candidate Steps for Success
- Call in advance to let your references know that you are interviewing for a new role and that a company or recruiter might be contacting them.
- Share the job description you are being considered for with your references. This helps them to better connect your previous experience to the potential opportunity.
- Tell the reference specifically why you are asking them to speak on your behalf. For instance, “I would appreciate your reference because I know you can speak to our successes in working through XYZ acquisition and on-boarding 50 new people.”
- Ask your reference what they will say about you around how you impacted the organization, your leadership and collaboration, and any growth areas that required mentoring.
- Ask how they would describe your reason for leaving.
- Stay in touch to keep the contact information current. Have they changed their email, phone number, last name, contact company?
Foster relationships with people who will provide a professional reference for you. If you cannot provide a reference from your current employer, your reference should be recent and relative to the role for which you are being considered. Finally, do not take up space on your resume stating, “references available upon request.” That is understood.
The hiring process moves quickly and the sooner your references respond, the faster the employer can move forward. At HireBetter we personally call each reference and ask the right questions to position our clients for success to cultivate the best from their new company game changer.
Contact us if you are ready to find – or be – a game-changer!