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“Expand you reference, and you’ll immediately expand your life.”
- Tony Robbins, American Author
When you’re shortlisted as part of the pool of candidates for a particular job, it usually turns out that your qualifications are very similar to that of the other applicants. It is here that employers look for key differentiators that will give them a reason to hire you. Many times, it is the person who is the best cultural fit, personality fit or has the most ideal work history. The only way the hiring manager or employer can find out about these traits is by asking someone. This person should be someone you, the candidate, have worked with in the past. These people are known as references. Listing references, especially the right ones can be a tricky affair.
References are a crucial part of the job search and interview process. Some companies might provide formal references or recommendations for their employees. Others might avoid it completely due to legal reasons. Then we have personal references which is a whole other story. In this blog, we will have a look at the things you should keep in mind when listing references.
1. Finish Listing References Before Applying
Asking people to be your reference can be a time-consuming process. You need to work your way through the list of potential contacts. You also have to make sure that they are okay with being listed as a reference. This can take a lot of time. Hence, it is advisable to first get your ducks in a row, as it were before you start applying for a job. What if you find yourself halfway down the interview and recruitment process with zero references?
2. Choose Well When Listing References
It might make sense to list your previous supervisor as a reference, but there are no guarantees as to how they might speak about you. Rather take a moment to evaluate all the people who worked above you in previous companies. Determine who is likely to give you the fairest assessment. This will better your chances.
3. Diversify When Listing References
Another way to boost your chances and keep things fresh in the recruitment process is to diversify your references. Have a list of people who can vouch for your different skill sets and qualifications. This way you can approach them separately for referencing you, depending on the job you’re applying for.
4. Look for Communication Skills When Listing References
You want references who can communicate their thoughts and are rather well-spoken. The same applies to their writing in case they have to reply by email. What you don’t want to have is a reference who has a habit of sending one-liner emails or gives unenthusiastic half-references when called up. It is also a good idea to list references who are prompt. This will serve as a good foundation for your reference list.
5. Always Ask for Consent Before Listing References
Touching back on our previous point, it is always important to make sure the person is willing to be a reference. You can’t just expect it, especially with company policies and the risk of lawsuits they might face. Give them the option to opt-out. This will save you a lot of issues down the line as well.
6. Be Patient When Listing References
You might be in a hurry to land a job and desperate to get done with listing references. However, that shouldn’t be a reason to pester people to be your reference. Wait and see, people might take some time to get back to you. If they take too long, like around a week, then reach out to them again. If they still don’t get back to you, it might be best to let it go and keep searching for more prompt references.
7. Make It Easy for Your References
Part of getting someone to be your reference and to make the most of it is to make the process easy on them. Send them everything they need to give accurate and good information on you. Forward your resume or link to your LinkedIn profile. You could even consider sending them documents and certificates of your accomplishments. A highly useful tactic is to include the job description that you are applying for and what qualifications the new employer is looking for. Think of it as giving your references cue cards that tell them what to speak on or touch upon.
8. Reference Letters Should Be Considered
Do not be afraid to ask for a reference letter. This can be a great time-saver. It can be included in the job application itself and can eliminate the need for a phone call or email follow-up by the hiring manager.
9. Give Fair Warning When Listing References
Every time you’re listing references for a specific job application process, let those people know. Consider it a professional courtesy. Send out a quick email or call them to let them know that someone will be calling them to do a reference check on you. This is also a good time to let them know what job you are applying for, as well as the name of the hiring manager and company.
10. Follow-ups are Key
You must follow up with your references when you have some news or updates regarding the job. Let them know if you got the job or not, and thank them for the efforts that they put in. You should also offer them a reciprocal offer if they need a reference in the future. Think of it as building good faith and maintaining your professional relationships, which can come in handy down the line.
Reference Checking Questions You Should be Asking
“The ability to ask the right questions is more than half the battle of finding the answer.”
- Thomas J. Watson, ex-CEO and Chairman of IBM
In this article, we will try and tackle the topic of reference questions for new hires. We will also talk about the process of reference checking after the interview. When it comes to reference checks and reference checking questions, people either love them or hate them. On the one hand, you have those who view reference checking as a means of uncovering the candidate’s abilities. It can be a tool to find out work history and even personality traits in some cases. On the other hand, some believe it to be not worth the time. Reference checks can feel like a waste of time when there is no proper structure or procedure in place. A lot of the time, you will end up with a list of references from the candidates who turn out to be their friends or other personal references. As expected, they will of course advocate for how great the candidate is.
Now, when a reference check is done right, it can be a vital tool in the recruitment process. It helps you make informed decisions about the people you hire. So, to help mitigate the negative aspects of this argument and help you get the most out of this process, we bring you this blog. We will talk about the people who would make the best references. We will also go over the best reference checking questions that you should be asking to get the information that you need.
Talking to the Right References: Reach Out via the Candidate
One of the best ways to get the ideal references is to ask the candidate to provide them. Ask the candidate for the names and numbers of their previous employer. Now, if they are yet to resign and are looking for a job, they obviously might not want you to get in touch for job safety reasons. You should respect that. Rather, ask for the contact number of a manager from a previous role. This is more than fair to both parties.
This is where it gets interesting. Depending on whether they are evasive or helpful, you will get a clear reading of what kind of employee they might be. On top of all this, the candidate might be the right person to put you in touch with their previous employers as they have a well-established relationship with them. These references might be more willing to chat if they believe that it would help a former colleague.
Asking the Right Reference Checking Questions
Once you have the right references, make sure to let them know about the confidentiality factor of the process. This is crucial if you want them to be honest and open with their answers. Tell them that no matter how glaring or glowing their feedback is, it all stays confidential. Here are the best reference checking questions you should be asking.
Question 1: What was the working relationship between you and the candidate?
Start the conversation off in a light manner, ease them into it. You don’t want to hit them with all the reference checking questions at once. This question will also allow you to start cross-checking basic information. You can verify things like the candidate’s title, responsibilities and other things they might have already told you.
Question 2: Did the candidate have any major accomplishments while working with you?
To a certain extent, this is another one of those reference checking questions that will help ease the reference’s mind. It serves a purpose beyond just validating any major milestones that the candidate may have had. This question stands as a reminder that the reference checking process is not built just to catch out candidates. It is an opportunity to learn more about the person behind the resume. So you can understand what exactly they bring to the table.
Question 3: What are some of his/her greatest strengths in your opinion?
This question is one designed for calibration beyond just the average understanding of skill sets. What we mean by this is that the answer to this question will tell you how well things line up with the initial rounds of interview, the candidate’s resume as well as their work samples. You will have a chance to see how the responses line up with the candidate’s self-assessment. This indicates self-awareness, with which you can calibrate the other answers you get. Essentially, does the reference’s assessment of the candidate line up with what the candidate thinks of their strengths?
Question 4: What were some areas of concern that you think stand out as red flags?
This is a big one. This question serves a dual purpose. As a prospective employer, you need to know if there are any areas for improvement, what they are and how to address them. You also need to know if the candidate is coachable. The other point of this question is to bring to the surface any reason you may want to rethink the hiring of a particular candidate. For example, if the reference says that the candidate might benefit from an extra month of training, then you have to question their capabilities and experience for that role.
Question 5: Did the candidate work better in a team or alone?
Look, neither has to be a bad or good thing, some professionals work best alone and some in a team. It just depends on what you, as the employer, are looking for. This will not only reveal if your candidate is a team player but also tell you how good of a communicator they might be. Soft skills are just as important as any other skills in a business. Keep in mind that when you are asking these questions, you are also evaluating how well the reference knows the candidate.
Question 6: Did the candidate receive any promotions while at your company?
If the candidate was promoted at one point, then this would bolster their resume and the likelihood of getting selected. However, if not, it might serve you better to understand why. Perhaps there were no open positions, or maybe the management decided they needed a stronger internal candidate (which could be a red flag), or something else entirely.
Question 7: Why did the candidate leave the company?
Much like the initial question, this one is another cross-checking question. It will tell you not only why they left but if it checks out with what the candidate told you in the initial rounds of the interview. It is also a good indicator of any red flags like if they left on bad terms, some workplace issue or something else.
Question 8: Would you rehire this candidate?
This is a follow-up to the previous question, because if the reference doesn’t give you a resounding ‘absolutely’, then you might have to reconsider. Hesitation implies there are some underlying issues. This is something you should probably probe more about. Ask the reference why they would or would not hire them back.
Question 9: Is there anyone else you would recommend I speak with?
The whole point of the reference checking process and asking all these reference checking questions is to gain insight from a different point of view. So, ask the references if there is anyone who would be willing and able to talk to you that can tell you more about the candidate. This could be someone who worked alongside the candidate or under them too.