Even though reference checking typically comes in the final stage of an interview process, it is still a crucial and significant step. Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, a senior advisor at global executive firm Egon Zehnder and career advice author, told Harvard Business Review “Given the option of either interviewing a candidate without checking references or checking references without interviewing, I would choose the latter.”
How much thought have you given to whom you’ve asked to speak on your behalf? How much care are you taking with this part of the process? This month we will dive deep into the do’s and don’ts of reference checking for both candidates and hiring managers.
1. Think strategically. Your list should be a mix of bosses, peers and subordinates who you know will provide strong endorsements. Prospective employers want to get a well-rounded sense of your experience, your work ethic, and character. Unless there is a very relevant reason to do so, steer clear of asking friends or college professors to serve as references.
2. Provide context. Give your references a link to the job description and the company website in advance of the call. Bring them up to speed on your story; remind them of what you’ve done, what you hope to do and how this opportunity fits into the picture. It’s okay to refresh their memory of projects you worked on and things you accomplished in your time together.
3. Help facilitate. Provide the recruiter/hiring manager with up-to-date contact information for your references, including any scheduling issues. If your reference will be out of the country for several weeks, you’ll want to make sure the call can happen before they are out of cell range and/or in a different time zone.
4. Be transparent. It is entirely acceptable to have a list that only includes people outside of your current organization . If you are not providing a reference from your current employer, just make sure the hiring party understands why.
5. Say thank you. Close the loop with your references by thanking them for their time and support. You should also follow up once the process has finished and let them know whether you got the job or what kind of role you are continuing to look for. For more ideas on good follow up, see here.
Next week I’ll unpack the nuts and bolts of the conversation itself; what questions are typically asked and what information the hiring manager or recruiter is looking for from a reference. In the meantime, give your professional relationships a little more care this week; some day soon the woman who sits across from you may be your best advocate.
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.