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Reference checks that work

The following is an excerpt from my new book,‘Fired to Hired, The Guide to Effective Job Search for the Over 40s’which is currently available on Amazon, Booktopia and Fishpond among others. ‘Fired to Hired’ is an easy-to-read, no-nonsense and practical guide to job search, written by someone who understands job loss and subsequent search.

Post-interview reference checks (Chapter 19, pages 160 – 162)

Reference checks are designed to provide interviewers with additional information about the candidate in order to make a hiring decision. Most references these days are obtained over the phone; however, it’s not uncommon for organisations to conduct reference checks via email where the referee is interstate or overseas in a different, and inconvenient, time zone.

As a rule of thumb, the best referees are individuals you have worked with or known within the last five to eight years. Currency of information is critical in evaluating candidates. Referees usually come from the following categories:

  • Managers you have worked for

  • Stakeholders within the business you have worked with or supported

  • Employees who have worked for you

  • Vendors, suppliers or customers outside the company you have had dealings with (especially if your job entails significant liaison with such groups)

It’s very important to note that you should ask for your referees’ permission to use them as referees at the beginning of your job search. You can lock them in later when you need their assistance for a specific reference check, but be sure to contact your referees before the recruiter or hiring organisation contacts them. Once you have established that a referee will speak on your behalf, ask them to let you know when the reference check occurs.

Given the opportunity to act as referees, some people like to string you along a little when providing feedback, but saying something like ‘I told them what a ratbag you are and not to employ you in a million years’ is not at all helpful. Once they are over channeling their inner comedian, hopefully they will give you a quick rundown on the questions asked, and any particular intelligence or feedback they gathered from the discussion.

While rare, during my early HR days I did have a couple of instances where the referee was surprised by my call and had not been approached by the candidate to act as a referee on their behalf. Needless to say, such oversights don’t reflect well on the candidate and any inference can only be negative. When you do contact your referees, take the time to tell them about the role you have applied for. This will give them the context they need when the hiring organisation contacts them.

Ensure your referee shares some key information or points you would like them to convey. If the job you have applied for has a high requirement for effective stakeholder management, make sure your referee mentions this in the reference check and perhaps details a specific situation where you did well. There might not be a specific question on this topic, but there could be a catchall question at the end of the reference check asking if there is anything else they would like to mention about the applicant’s suitability for the role. If you have prepared your referee well, this will assure the hiring company that they have covered everything, they will volunteer further information that could be enough to get you across the line when it comes to comparing candidates and deciding who gets the job.

When organisations ask for referees, they don’t usually specify who they would like to speak to, but will generally ask for someone you’ve worked for, which means that you can offer referees on your terms. If you’ve worked for someone that you don’t feel would represent your interests in applying for another job appropriately, don’t put their name forward. Most people have experienced working for someone with a manager’s title who may not provide a ringing endorsement of their professional background. You want to put forward someone who will speak highly of you in relation to the job you are applying for, and confirm that you’re a good match for the required skills, knowledge and experience.

Thanks for reading about reference checks! If you liked this information, there are many more tips and hints on effective job search for mature job seekers in the book.

The Career Medic – Taking the worry out of job search for the over 40s

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