Tools of the Trade: References

March 16, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Once in a while I like to digress from my usual writing on corporate governance and examine other topics that are relevant to the field of executive recruiting. Resumes and interviews get a lot of attention but the subject of references is less ubiquitous. As an Executive Recruiter, references are a key element in the total understanding and evaluation of an individual. As such, let’s look at some of the ways that references are used and how they can greatly influence results.

For purposes of the discussion at hand references will be defined as persons to whom one refers for testimony as to one’s character, abilities, etc. (Dictionary.com). References typically come into play towards the end of the job search process. A candidate has undergone at least one and likely several interviews with a prospective employer and the process is moving towards closure and offer. It is at this time that the candidate is asked to provide some references. It was common practice in the past to simply furnish a few former supervisors. Today however, references are more often obtained in a 360° manner. That is, we speak with not only superiors, but subordinates, peers and even clients and suppliers. References might also include comments from those one knows through volunteer affiliations and even personally. Similar to the idea of having a resume prepared and up-to-date at all times (you never know!), it is wise practice to maintain a typed list with the coordinates for as many references as conceivable. It should be evident, but a reference should be someone with whom you have had a positive relationship and who has seen your skills and abilities at their best. It is also advisable to tell your references that you are suggesting them as such.

The timing of references discussed above is the norm although not completely universal. Sometimes references are conducted at the outset of the search process and there is certainly merit to this approach. By starting references earlier one can obtain a clearer, truer and fuller picture prior to investing too much time and effort into a candidate. Normally when references are gathered early-on they are partial with the balance coming at the end of the search process.

Probably the most important element of the reference procedure these days surrounds not those individuals that a candidate suggests as references, but rather those that the job seeker DOES NOT. Make no mistake, any thorough and exhaustive search process will include discussion with these so called “soft references.”  These individuals, who have been associated with the job seeker but did not make it to the reference list, can be monumental because they can provide a very authentic and unprepared view of the individual in question. These candid conversations can be critical to the outcome of the search because by their very nature they can be more credible than the engineered and contemplated reference check. This methodology is so common that web sites such as LinkedIn actually provide tools with which to obtain access to these people and this type of information. So, the old adage: “never burn your bridges” is even more important in the context of job search today.

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Entry filed under: Business, Recruiting.

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