This is the final of the three-part series on Job References. The first part of this article looks at how to handle negative references, and the latter part contains a list of 18 questions that job references could be asked by potential employers.
How to Handle Negative Job References
Most employers know that people are not perfect and that work relationships sour. However, if something had happened at any of your jobs that could potentially put you in a bad light, you should be ready, if asked, to explain the highs and lows in each of those positions. This is not the time to badmouth the boss, 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. Here is a suggestion:
“I am not sure what George at The Widget Company 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 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.”
If you are willing to be transparent and authentic, and discuss the situation candidly while focusing on lessons learned, you could end up being a better reference for yourself than anyone else could.
Questions Your References May be Asked
In an article in the Globe and Mail, a job seeker asked, “Why are references even required in this day and age when information about a candidate’s job history and accomplishments can be found online…?” Great question, but as mentioned in the earlier series, it is very costly to make the wrong hire. Therefore, employers look for honest answers, not only during the interview but when they contact your job references. Make sure your references are prepared in advance.
The following questions represent a sample of what your references may be asked. While there are no guarantees, knowing what these questions are ahead of time will put you in a better position to advise your references on what they may be asked:
- Can you verify candidates date of employment, title, dates and role?
- Is the candidate eligible for rehire? Why or Why Not?
- Did the candidate go above and beyond what was required?
- What are their strong points? Areas for improvement?
- Is there anything else you can add about the candidate, or that I should consider before we hire?
- What was she like to work with?
- How did she handle conflict?
- To what extent was she perceived to be a team player?
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the candidate?
- Describe the candidate’s day-to-day responsibilities on the job
- What kind of situation would you not hesitate to put the candidate in? What kind of situation would give you pause?
- Provide an example of how the candidate raises the bar for herself and for those around her.
- If you could create the perfect work environment for the candidate, what would it look like?
- What kind of development plan was communicated to the candidate and how did he respond?
- How would you describe his interpersonal skills?
- What would you say motivated her most?
- Why did the candidate leave?
- Could the candidate have stayed if he had wanted to?
While your job references will not be asked all of the above questions, it is important that you, the job candidate, familiarize yourself with them and share them with your job references. The answers they give could be what stands between you landing the job or being bypassed.
A final thought on references: When asking someone to act as a reference, pay attention to their response. If they were slow to respond, or appeared lukewarm, this could be a warning sign. Select someone else. It’s better to have someone who is enthusiastic about speaking on your behalf than someone whose lack of enthusiasm could land you at the bottom of the list for consideration.