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Why Your References’ Rave Reviews May Be a Waste of Time

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Your impressive resume got you the interview. You built a good rapport with the panel and you are feeling confident that you might get the job. Just as you are getting ready to pull out your reference list in case you are asked for it, someone asks you to explain your relationship with your bosses and colleagues at each of your past workplaces.”  Wow! That’s a curve ball you were not expecting. Suddenly it seems that all that effort of prepping your references was a waste of time.

Some employers believe that this common practice of relying on “candidate-supplied super fans” is not objective and could be a waste of time. Deborah Aarts, senior editor at Profit Magazine wrote recently that “Candidate-supplied references are usually nothing more than glowing reviews”, and she has found other people who agree with her. The chairman of an executive search firm, as well as a small business owner, agree that the practice is flawed because “Candidates are only going to give you people who’ll say good things about them.  Well, one would imagine that that’s the point of having references!

While some may see reference checking as a waste of time, it is not going away. Employers still need performance verification from people with whom a candidate has worked. They want to make sure that the candidate can do the job, will do the job and will fit in with the company’s culture. Reference checking is a combination of asking the right questions of the candidate and the references, and administering appropriate assessments. This should help to determine if the candidate will be a good fit. The majority of times the process works, so it wouldn’t amount to being a waste of time.

The candidate also has a job to do. He or she should be ready to explain the highs and lows in each position, if and when asked. This is not the time to badmouth the boss (or ex-boss) or anyone else. If the relationship was not all that great, say so, but frame it in a way that’s open and honest. Something like:

I am not sure what George at Widget Inc. would say about me at this point since he wasn’t too happy when I resigned.  After three years in the department, I was bypassed for a promotion and asked to train the new hire. I decided it was time to explore other opportunities, and so I left for the position with ABC Company. That position represented not only a hike in salary, but the title and responsibilities were exactly what I was looking for. As you can see, I excelled in that role and was promoted within 12 months of joining the company.”

Most employers know that people are not perfect and that work relationships sour.  However, if a candidate is willing to be transparent and authentic and discuss the situation candidly, while focusing on lessons learned, they could end up being a better reference for themselves than anyone else could.

What are your thoughts? Is referencing checking really a waste of time?

 

Robo Reference Checking is a Reality

From time to time we hear of robo calls when politicians send out mass messages to their constituents to get their attention, but these activities are not limited to politics. Don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself having to make a robo call to a robo cop to check if robo reference checking is legal. Well, am injecting a bit of humour here, but automatic reference checking is a reality, and might just be coming to a job search near you.

Automatic reference checking tools allow companies to obtain more and better feedback from references. One such tool is Pre-Hire 360, which according to a white paper from the developer, SkillsSurvey Inc., it “moves beyond unimaginative, close-ended questions that many candidates have prepared for, and it moves beyond simplistic verification (yes/no) of prior employment”.

How does it work? A job seeker’s references are asked to complete an online survey rating the person’s skills, anonymously. This survey consists of 25 questions. It takes approximately 10 minutes and can be done at any time. Once all references have responded, the tool aggregates their ratings into a report.

The tool delves into the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as identified by their managers and co-workers and accelerates one’s ability to uncover the true nature of a candidate’s performance at work. It operates on the premise that “candidates are likely to embellish their past accomplishments, and are not likely to tell you about situations at work that did not turn out so well for them.”

At surface level, this sounds like a great idea. It would work quite well for references who are at a distance and easier to reach by email. And, as some users have indicated, it gets a 360-degree view of candidates from their peers and customers and strengthens a company’s talent pool; it increases the calibre of hires, and offers less staff turnover. However, when some users make statements like “…references tend to be brutally frank about their colleagues …and they don’t have to worry about information getting back to the candidate” or “Sometimes the candidates don’t even realize that their references are ruling them out”, then it starts to look sinister, in my opinion. So, while it might be ideal from a company’s perspective, job seekers should be concerned, or at least, be aware.

Another part of the process is that candidates who pass a telephone interview must immediately provide a minimum of five references before the next stage of the interview. Two of these references must be past or present managers. What if this candidate is conducting a confidential job search,and what happens if they do not have five names to offer as references?

For legal reasons, companies usually provide dates of employment and job titles, but the anonymity built into the tool allows references to provide more than the customary confirmation. A candidate without any character flaws wouldn’t have to worry about someone digging deeper, but what if a candidate has a minor flaw, or what if he or she had some issues with a manager, and this manager decides to be spiteful? These are ‘what ifs’ scenarios, but they can happen. Although the process is anonymous, employers could be opening up themselves to some legal push backs.

What can job seekers do to prepare themselves?

  • Become  aware of this trend, and make sure to choose references wisely – individuals who are eager to vouch for their character, skills and work ethic.
  • Inform references that a confirmation request could come through email in the form of a short survey instead of the standard referencing process.
  • Confirm with the individuals that they are comfortable acting as references, and if there are any issues that could surface, have a frank discussion ahead of time.
  • Prior to the interview, advise references which company or companies they might expect to hear from so they are not surprised.
  • Send references an updated resume, and highlight areas of your skills and accomplishments that they should address during the reference checking process

I think such a tool works well for companies as it cuts down on telephone tags and reduces costs, but it has drawbacks. Confidentiality and anonymity are two of them. Share your thoughts.

*Image courtesy of clipartillustration.com