References: Do Them Right

We once had someone complete three rounds of interviews with a client and he won the battle for the job with a close contender. Our client asked us to check his references.

Here’s what happened next.

Of the first four references provided, we received no phone numbers or addresses. Two no longer worked at the firm; one worked for a firm that did not allow him to provide a reference (he suggested we speak with the consulting agency that provided him to them); one was a divisional executive whose administrative assistant, after several calls, politely said, “She doesn’t remember him.”

On to the second set of references and day three of the request that they are checked. Four more names were provided. Two no longer worked at his firm, one was a bank president who did not return calls; I was able to speak with him and he was very flattering of the candidate.

On to the third set of references and more than five days went by.

I reached three more people; they were all fairly junior and offered the best of what I had.

Folks, there are two basic points I want to make.

One is obvious. If you plan on using people as references, get personal e­mail addresses and phone numbers so you stand a chance of reaching them when you need them and then stay in touch with them.

The other is that delays in reaching people and being pushed away offer another possible interpretation ­­this person was not particularly good and no one wanted to put that on record.

Great references, especially for positions in leadership, can put someone over the top in someone’s mind or create doubt which may cause an opportunity to fall apart.

Stay in contact with your references. They make all the difference in the world.


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Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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