Gone are the days when job applicants controlled the reference-checking process by providing “References Upon Request” and employers conducted formulaic interviews. Today, references can come from just about anybody–a former boss, a peer, a favorite professor or even a receptionist.
Not wanting to make hiring mistakes, employers are increasing their scrutiny of those they might hire. You can make it easy for them and increase your job chances by following the following 2-1-1 Rule for Reference Selection:
- A current and former supervisor
- Peer who worked on teams with you
- Professor who knows your skills and work ethic
While some reference checks focus on peer feedback, recruiter Peter McDermott of Heyman Associates, says he and his colleagues lean towards professional over academic and peer references, but all can play a decision-making role. “We always ask for a wide spectrum of references, and like to hear from not only managers, but also professional peer team members as well as subordinates.”
McDermott confirms that reference checks normally occur when a prospective employer is about to receive a job offer but the firm wants one more confirmation supporting the hiring decision.
“We are more pushing on culture fit,” McDermott said. “A lot of times, this includes how the candidate manages up, down, and across an organization. Peer references are useful when that peer has seen the candidate in a professional situation. This pushes on the aspect of teamwork and collaboration, and more importantly, what the candidate does in a situation where they are not successful, and how they handle that.”
Travis Kessel, vice president of recruitment at Edelman, agrees that professional references outweigh peer references, but he recognizes the value if sourcing multiple people at the same level.
“The best references come from the ones you don’t receive from the candidate,” said Kessel. “I like to reach out to people who I know used to work with someone vs. going to the people who they list. Of the people who are listed, the immediate past supervisor is generally the best go-to.”
Help Your References Help You
Even if you feel references will be supportive, they need to be aware that they may be contacted. Don’t assume automatic support. Always ask potential references if they will lend their support, and then prepare them to help underscore your strengths. And don’t be afraid to discuss your weaknesses and how you’re addressing them since that’s almost always the final question asked by reference checkers.
And Don’t Ignore the Receptionist
“When we conduct a second-round interview and are about to make an offer, I sometimes ask the receptionist what she thought of the candidate,” a major agency head told me. “Very often she confirms our observations, but sometimes we learn that someone was rude or ignored her. If we’re on the fence after a reference check, this insight helps tip the balance one way or another.”
This “Culpwrit on Careers” column was written for the PRSSA publication, FORUM, which is full of valuable content for PR students and young professionals.