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The Shocking Truth about References: “How” and “Why”

The Shocking Truth about References: “How” and “Why”
Scott Keenan
As a recruiter, one of the most irritating and most important parts of the recruitment process is checking the references of prospective candidates. If everyone does their job, this could be a completely painless, easy and even fun process. The problem is that candidates rarely ever think hard about how this is supposed to work.

References provide a lot of information about a candidate’s potential performance, and can reveal opportunities to coach a candidate. For example, I’ve had references tell me that the candidate had difficulty saying “no” to management, would take on too many projects and end up staying late to complete them all. This is good information for the candidate’s new manager to have. The problem is that candidates don’t think very hard about who they list as references and it makes the whole process terrible. Most of the time, I assume people just think that I won’t bother to call them, even though I tell them I’m going to.

First of all, your references should know they are references, and if you went to an interview for a job, you should tell them about it. When I call a reference and ask for information and they tell me they know you went on an interview for the position and were expecting a call, it makes me feel like you really wanted the job. It also gives them an opportunity to think about how good you would be in that position, and they can highlight areas that would market you as an employee.

When someone agrees to be a reference for you, maybe you should ask them what kind of reference they’re going to be. I’m always shocked when I contact someone and they tell me how terrible the candidate is. I understand when there’s a little bit of constructive criticism, but some managers will tell me outright that the candidate is an idiot and shouldn’t be employed by anyone.Also, if you agree to be a reference for someone, know that this means you will need to make time to talk to someone regarding this employee. I love calling managers who tell me that they don’t have 20 minutes to provide a reference. That means you don’t provide references. Tell your employees.I understand that some companies don’t provide references at all, but try and do something to compensate without getting a friend or co-worker to help out. Generally, we’re looking for someone who has supervised your work. Find someone who has managed you in a volunteer setting at least.
Don’t screw up your chances at a position because of a bad reference. Generally, when I contact your references, I already like you. You got through the screening, you did well on the testing and in the interview, and the hiring manager feels you’re a good fit. Think about the fact that at this point, it could be between you and one other candidate. Make sure the process for the recruiter and the hiring manager makes us want to hire you.
Undergrad Success thanks Scott Keenan for this awesome post!

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Scott Keenan

Scott Keenan is a recruiter for @PriorityCareers, with several years’ experience recruiting in both the public and private sectors in addition to marketing and social media roles. As a self-described professional cynic, he provides unique insight into modern recruiting from both the recruiter and candidate’s perspective. You can follow Scott on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn or check out his posts on The Priority Blog.

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