Candidate References

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?

Careful Selection
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.

Get Permission
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.

Hidden Benefit
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.

The Phone Interview

After applying to multiple positions and attending networking events, your efforts are finally paying off: you’ve been asked for a phone interview! While this is an exciting first step in the hiring process, it can also be fraught with risks.

Don’t fall into the following traps:

Too Casual

This means in both speech and demeanor. Since you are on the phone likely in a comforting environment to you, it is easy to slip into old habits of casual language as if you were speaking with an old friend or even a longtime coworker. Just because you are not being evaluated in person doesn’t mean the interviewer isn’t picking up on your social cues. Perhaps they are picking up even more so since they only have your voice and language on which to base an opinion.

Make sure you dress professionally as it subconsciously will make you speak and present yourself in a more commanding way. If you feel like you are dressed for a professional environment, you will speak as if you were in one!

Have good posture and use facial expressions as if the interviewer was sitting across from you. It may feel funny at first, but the inflections in your voice will be come through the phone and will make you seem more engaging.

Not Using Your Resources

Since you are not in person, you can have your research and resume laid out in front of you for reference. Don’t forget to glance at your resume to jog your memory of work experiences and sills you can use in conversation. If you have research on the company printed out, bring company news, historical company facts, etc., into the conversation so the interviewer gets the feeling that you are interested in their job, not just any job.

Unprofessional Environment

If you are taking the phone interview at home and have noisy pets, make accommodations for them before the phone rings. Perhaps bring a dog to another floor of the house or make sure the cat has enough food and water prepared.

Don’t have the tv on in the background and limit the possibility of background noise as much as you can. For example, don’t sit next to an outside window in case the neighbor’s landscaper decides to show up.

If you are taking the phone interview at your current office and have ducked into a conference room, make sure it is either formally reserved or the door is shut/ locked so you don’t have fellow employees entering the room. That would not only be uncomfortable for you but for them, as well!

No Follow Up

Even though the prospective company did not host you in person, the interviewer still devoted time out of their day to get to know you, your experience and skills, and decide if you could be a good fit for them. Sending a thank you message is important as it recognizes this time investment and their consideration of you for their company.

If you devote ample preparation time and avoid these pitfalls, you will likely see yourself preparing for the next step in the hiring process: the in person interview!