The hiring process can sometimes be long and anxiety-laden for both the candidate and hiring manager. The candidate thinks: do they like me? Am I on the short-list of candidates? Will they ask me to move on to the next round? The hiring manager thinks: will this candidate be able to perform this role? Are they a good cultural fit for the company? Will they accept the offer if we were to extend it to them?
These questions sometimes aren’t all answered until a hiring decision has been made, however, speaking to a candidate’s references can offer perspective and insight into a candidate that the hiring manager might otherwise not get just by speaking to the candidate directly. For this reason, candidates should be careful when selecting references to present to either a hiring manager or recruiter.
It is customary to have a former supervisor or coworker agree to serve as a reference for you before you distribute their contact information. This allows them to be prepared when being contacted by a prospective employer on your behalf but it also gives them time to think and bring memories of you and your work to the forefront of their mind.
Having someone agree to serve as a reference largely ensures that they will speak positively of you and want the best for you and your career trajectory. However, you should still give careful thought to who you want representing your work, knowledge and skills. A lukewarm reference, while not terrible, won’t put you a notch ahead of another candidate of equal standing that supplied spectacular references. Also, a reference from so far in your past will have the safe effect. While not a deal-breaker, this might bring up more questions than reassurances for the hiring manager, such as: why didn’t the candidate supply a person from the recent past? Is there a reason the candidate went so far back in their job history? Has their work or temperament shifted?
The Icing on a Cake
Reference checks and conversations can be viewed like the icing on a cake. Usually by the time a hiring manager or recruiter speaks with a candidate’s references, an opinion has already formed of the candidate based on their resume, cover letter and direct conversations with them. Maybe writing samples have also been provided and they’ve met multiple members of the team. Now, the references come in and solidify an already favorable opinion of a top candidate.
Worst Case Scenario
Instead of being the icing on a cake, reference checks could also be a bad litmus test of a candidate, if not handled properly. If a candidate passed along reference contact details thinking it was just a formality and didn’t take the time to touch base with the reference and that person either didn’t want to serve as a reference or spoke negatively of the candidate, this candidate’s chances of getting offered the job are slim to none. This scenario applies to recruiters as well as direct hiring managers. If a candidate is working with a recruiter and the recruiter (or HR representative of the staffing agency) has a negative conversation with a reference, the odds are good that the recruiter will not want to represent this candidate for a job.
A positive benefit of having conversations with people you would like to serve as references is that you get to keep in touch with people that have either shaped or been a part of your career journey. If you used to interact with someone during every business day, both of you would enjoy updating each other on your professional life.
Reference checks are an important piece of the hiring puzzle and one that should be given adequate thought and attention.