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Using References in Your Next Job Search

July 20, 2008
by Tim Tolan
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If you decide to make a change in your career make sure your references are better prepared the next time they receive a call from a future employer. And - make sure they understand it may NOT be a typical type of reference check. More and more employers are either outsourcing the reference checking process or they have adopted a much more stringent set of questions to ask your list of references.

Most candidates assume they can give the same list of “lay-up” references and everything will work our perfectly. You know exactly what I’m talking about. You go to your rolodex and call the same 3-4 people you used the last time you made a job change. Everything will be just fine. Right? Not so fast.

Many of my clients are growing tired of the perfect references they get because they sometimes view this part of the search process as a validation of what they already think about the finalist in the search. Each and every time they usually have to “listen to the same music” over and over regarding a candidate under consideration for a new position. All of the references are “perfect”. They sing like birds in perfect harmony every time the phone rings. They are NEVER out of tune because that's the way it was scripted. On the way home from the interview the candidate does a quick name search on their Blackberry and calls their standard list of references to let them know they will be getting a call from a future employer. Each reference will be excellent – right?

C'mon - today's hiring managers are much smarter that that - right?

More and more companies are asking plenty of non-traditional reference questions to find out something they don’t already know or have not heard about you. They are digging…Some even contact people that may know you - that are NOT on your reference list! It happens all of the time! Just read the book TopGrading by Brad Smart and you will earn some of the techniques some employers are using in the interview and reference checking process. It changes the game. It’s a very long book - it will take a while to read through the material in this book, but well worth the investment.

In summary – remember in the healthcare IT space there is no such thing as Six Degrees of Separation. In most cases, and depending on how long you have been a CIO, there may be only 2-3 degrees of separation (MAX) from you and your future employer. Always keep your network up-to-date and make sure they are prepared the next time you call on them as a reference.



Agreed Satish. It can go either way. The point I was trying to reinforce is we should understand that reference checking is something candidates need to pay more attention to in their job search. Contacting former supervisors/managers, even if they are not on the candidate's submitted list of references, may be a better strategy once a prospective employer requests a list of references from the candidate. Employers are digging much more into the candidate's past history and often calling into their own "network" to see if anyone has any "scoop" on the individual. A simple LinkedIn search can turn up people that know the candidate that are not on their "hand-picked" reference list. The days of simply using a network of friends to say whatever the new employer wants to hear will is not good enough.
You are correct — there is no way to know if the candidate hired will become successful or not. However, employers are opting to be much more diligent in their recruiting process and everyone should take note that a new day has dawned regarding reference checking.

Good suggestion.. I can possibly argue for both sides.. I have seen the "perfect" references turning out to be disaster stories pretty soon and also the folks who did just "fine" in their references but did a great job.. Regardless of what the HR and the recruiting buffs say, there is no perfect way to get the right person.. Human beings are far from perfect.. They come in billions of shapes and sizes.. Most of us will normally have the half the population prefer someone else over us and we should be grateful some are steadfast supporters of ours.. That said, its a wake up call that we need to maintain great relationships at all times.. Thanks for reinforcing the idea..