By Paula Goodman
Having made it to the final stage of receiving an offer “predicated on reference checks,” it is critical you select the best individuals to act as references. Some employers also want background checks which are normally done by third party vendors that verify educational degrees, dates of prior employment, and even criminal or credit data depending on the type of job. These are done to ensure that what your resume conveys is the truth. Reference checks, however, are much more qualitative and are intended to probe whether what the prospective employer truly needs to know about you as they envision you joining them. Most will understand if you do not want to offer your current boss if you have been interviewing in confidence but they will want to at least one person from your current place of work - either a coworker or a client. Human Resources people are often mandated not to give references due to the litigious climate we work in.
When you ask someone to serve as a reference I would forward them a copy of the job description in question and speak to them about any additional points. In my role as an internal executive recruiter I am very often asked to conduct references as part of my services. I do, however, encourage the hiring manager to make at least one of the calls him or herself so he/she can probe deeply about the qualities they are seeking in this new hire, especially if there are particular technical or functional necessities. Questions I ask have to do with:
- Relationships with Supervisors, peers, and subordinates
- Willingness to take on new challenges and deal with setbacks
- Examples of where the person exceeded expectations
- Developmental needs
A skilled reference checker will probe deeply into the above points so you need to be totally certain that the person you have offered up is indeed going to be positive. I have encountered instances where the person giving the reference is hesitant or qualified in their response and on a few rare occasions was negative. This example reinforces why you need to be very selective in choosing a reference. As mentioned above sending them the job description in advance and prepping them as much as possible for the upcoming call will help a great deal.
About the Author:
As Director of Recruitment in central Human Resources for Columbia University, Paula Goodman manages senior level searches on an ad hoc basis. She advises internal schools and departments on recruitment strategies for positions at various levels. She handles high priority referrals from internal and external stakeholders of importance to the University. Under the auspices of the Office of Work-Life, she provides career advisement for accompanying spouses/partners of potential faculty recruits. She also provides confidential career advisement for officers contemplating internal moves. Additionally, she was re-elected for a second term to the University Senate as the sole representative for non-faculty on the Morningside campus. She has both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree from the University of New Hampshire.