It used to be that a reference check was a ‘check box’ item after an offer was made, a CYA of sorts. But these days, you just have to read the headlines to see prominent leaders who have fibbed on their resumes—ok, blatantly made stuff up, committed crimes and who knows what else.
References are more important than ever but the nature of them has changed. We do more digging around online (nice FaceBook photos, thanks for over sharing!). But the key component remains the one-on-one phone call. These calls are my favorite part and I find there’s an art to extracting the essence of a person through these conversations.
It all starts with how responsive a reference is. Think about it. If you think the world of someone, that’s an easy conversation that you are motivated to have. On the other hand, if, in a moment of weakness, you agreed to be a reference for someone you don’t think that highly of, it’s not a conversation you are going to prioritize.When talking to references, I am looking for consistency; it’s wonderfully reassuring when references use nearly the same words to describe the same candidate.
References say the darnest things so filtering through, in an accurate way, their personality, biases and the like is critical to get a balanced view of a candidate.
And finally, sorting out the ‘cheerleader’ from the ‘pragmatist’ is also necessary. Over the top references and those that have to give three detailed deficiencies are sometimes more about the person you are talking to than the person you are talking about.
Here’s a tip for would be reference seekers: be direct and ask if the reference has any reservations at all about being a reference—if they can’t be very, very positive, find someone else. And never select someone who sees the world as ‘half full’ or is a negative personality.