This week, I’ve had several scary job reference requests. Three out of four had an unhappy ending. So do job references really make a difference? Listen to 4 stories and decide for yourself…..
In my own experience, the two worst mistakes made during hiring are:
a) not checking references or
b) selecting the wrong individual for the job.
Which of these is more controllable? References — they provide an independent, verified opinion of the candidate.
So, what happens when you are asked to GIVE a reference for a poor candidate?
I made a resolution many years ago that I would not lie or “fudge” a reference for anyone that I would not rehire myself. My reputation for integrity relies on my honesty.
This resolution was made because more than once I’ve made a bad hire – based on a colleague’s reference. In those instances the colleague was just “helping out” a candidate without firsthand knowledge of that individual’s capabilities. Results like that didn’t increase my respect for the colleague, especially when I’m stuck with difficult or incapable employees.
This week, reference request #1 came to me from a friend who called “unofficially” because I was familiar with a company on his candidate’s resume. The candidate has no idea I was an unofficial reference.
These unsolicited references between colleagues can make or break a job opportunity. They are usually frank phone calls between executives who trust each other, they can quickly confirm facts or amend the hiring manager’s viewpoint. The best thing: they are an alternative to relying solely on what might be a “biased” reference list within a candidate’s resume.
Reference request #2 came from a candidate directly, asking permission to list my name on their resume reference list (this is a good practice — asking a former supervisor ahead of time if they would provide a job reference).
Unfortunately, I declined because I was aware of negative information, that the candidate had “burned bridges” in a relationship with a former employer. That was a tough conversation with the candidate, let me tell you.
Reference #3 was a request sent out by a colleague of mine. He received surprising bad news from that reference conversation, that eliminated his star candidate. Turns out this person quit a previous job within weeks of completing thousands of dollars of training – to join a competitor! A candid conversation (on an unofficial reference check) uncovered this “burned bridge” with a former employer. My colleague declined the candidate and started over on his interview process.
Reference request #4 was positive, thank goodness! Favorable references are always a pleasure to provide – what better reward is there, helping a former employee aspire to the next level and move forward in their career?!
In hindsight, this week’s reference activity was not normal – on balance the good references usually outweigh the bad ones, by about a 9:1 ratio. Maybe this was just a bad week — it is a full moon, after all!
Lesson learned? NEVER burn a bridge, it’s a small world and your reputation is everything in the long term.