What is this in reference to?

referenceNice work. You nailed your interviews and are moving to the exciting offer stage. The thing that sometimes causes agita amongst job seekers is that little step in betwixt the interviews and the offer: The reference check.
Today we will discuss how to approach the reference check. First thing: Always have your group of references ready and updated if you are in the job market. Make sure they know they will be getting a call and inform them what the role is so they can be prepared to speak contextually about you.
The “rotation” or mix of people you want to have depends on what type of job you are looking for or even the type of company you may possibly be going to work for. This is my very general mix:
Individual Contributor roles:

  • 1 or 2 peers
  • 1 or 2 managers
  • Foxhole reference (I will explain later)

Management roles

  • 1 peer
  • 2 direct reports
  • 1 manager
  • Foxhole reference

Sales or consulting (heavy client-facing roles)

  • 1 or 2 managers
  • 2 clients
  • Foxhole reference

Obviously, there are many permutations you can do off these guidelines depending on your industry. But get this group set and on-board well before you even start interviewing.

So what is this Foxhole reference? Everyone has worked with someone in their career who they are extremely close to. They worked incredibly well together as if they were of one mind. They also are a person who is articulate, creative and quick thinking. This is someone who will always have your back (hence the foxhole reference.) They can adapt to whatever type of questions and personality the reference checker has and always make you look like a rock star. If you somehow forgot to contact them to give a heads-up on a potential reference check call, they would still do a great job for you. You all probably know someone like this. If not, think harder – it will come to you and get that person in the rotation.

Coaching references:

My best advice is not to do any coaching other than the heads-up info (job, company, etc) When I call a reference that the job seeker coached, it is painfully obvious.  Unless they are Meryl Streep, it is transparent they reading some sort of notes or script (or desperately trying to find your email that had their script!) These people are professional and smart they will do fine without any real coaching

“The Question”

When the “question” comes up – and we all know the “question” (areas of improvement or weaknesses), references will often figure out how to make a negative seem like a positive (“he takes his job so seriously and works so hard he doesn’t delegate enough”.) While they think they are doing you a favor, a savvy hiring manager will read that as (not a good manager, doesn’t trust their staff, didn’t train staff properly to feel comfortable delegating, doesn’t make good hiring decisions, etc.) Just tell them to be honest in all questions, avoid hyperbole as much as possible.

Let’s face it, if they are going to say something that would be a deal breaker, maybe a. they shouldn’t be on your list or b. maybe this isn’t the right job for you. Most people are smart enough to provide references who are going to say good things, so I think the process is somehow a little silly, but I suppose is somewhat necessary. Just know that this is not the only due diligence they do (aside from background checks.) See the next paragraph.

Back Door Reference

Invisible to the job seeker, most recruiters/HR people conduct what is called a back-door reference when they can. They know that the references you give are basically a fix, and recruiters use them as networking/sales calls to see if they are looking and/or hiring and using agencies (we are so sly!) The back door reference is simple:

  1. You worked at Acme Widgets
  2. The recruiter/ref checker knows someone or has access to someone who worked at Acme Widgets at the same time and gets an unfiltered reference on you

Reference Diversity

Try to mix up references so they aren’t all from one job or company, unless that’s the only place you ever worked. When including peers, maybe have one from a different group as yours to show you were a positive contributor among the entire organization.

So, if you haven’t gathered your reference posse, now is the time.

Next post: An offer you can’t refuse (or can you?)

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