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Back in the day when applying for a job, just before printing and mailing your résumé, the following line of text would be added at the bottom of the page: References available upon request. After dazzling potential employers during the interview with your sparkling portfolio and equally sunny personality, the quality of your references could either seal or kill the deal.
That’s right, references, in the 100% cotton, watermarked days of job hunting, were just as crucial to career success as the ability to actually perform the job—especially in a highly competitive job market.
Today, there are those among us who believe the act of checking references is just a perfunctory task Human Resources wants checked off prior to delivering an offer of employment. Some in-house managers have the audacity to skip the process altogether and just go with their gut over a portfolio review, a few beers and a game of 8-ball with the candidate at the local sports bar. The personal assumptions of other managers about “to check” or “not to check” references vary significantly.
One assumption is: What potential employee would submit a reference that wasn’t favorable, right? The uncertainty in this question is very healthy. It seems that folks shy away from providing honest references if they’re less than glowing for fear of litigation. That belief is wrong. Providing a fact based reference without malice is totally acceptable.
Another assumption is: You don’t need formal references any more, just know someone that works for the company and bada bing, bada boom … you’re in like Flynn. In theory, its good to know someone on the inside, but what you may not know is if he has a good or bad reputation internally.
References, however old school they may seem, are invaluable resources (particularly for in-house managers) and should be thoughtfully provided and vigorously checked.
When checking references, I usually take detailed notes and file them away for future review. If I encounter a unique challenge during the course of an employee’s tenure, I routinely refer back to those notes to see if any insights were captured that could assist me in managing the challenging situation.
I’ve been surprised to find that if the right questions were asked, the comments notated from past references would always provide a perspective that led me to a new method in coaching that team member through the situation.
5 Questions to Ask References
Below are 5 noteworthy reference questions that you can ask the next time you’re on the hunt for a new member to join your in-house team.
- Tell me about ______________.
- Describe what it was like to work with ______________ on a critical assignment. Please include the amount of structure, direction and feedback you felt was required. And how did ______________ respond to your coaching?
- Describe how ______________ was able to manage their professional obligations and personal commitments.
- How did ______________ contribute to the culture of your team/department and the greater organization? Please provide an example.
- What was ______________ greatest achievement or contribution — and why? Conversely, what was ______________ greatest developmental weakness? What suggestion(s) do you have for me to coach ______________ successfully through this challenge?
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