Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Landing the Job--Using 360 References

We were interviewing accountants. All CPA's with years of experience, our 'short list' interviewed brilliantly. Faced with a difficult choice, reference-gathering became critical.

Two of the candidates submitted extensive references lists providing 360 views of their accomplishments. References included former auditors, CEOs, supervisors, peers, Board members, and direct reports. Each person I reached out to was eager to talk and gave detailed, pertinent performance information. Messages were quickly returned.

The third person gave what appeared to be a random sampling of names from his address book. Several numbers were wrong. My messages weren’t returned. One person had to think for about ten seconds before he could recall the candidate. I went back to the applicant and requested more names--one of which declined to give a reference when contacted.

Guess who we eliminated first?

This true little story illustrates just how important references can be to land that dream job in the current employment market. Yes, it’s true that some employers don’t really check references these days, but you should be prepared that many do; and some (like me) may do a very thorough job of it. Ultimately, I spoke to nine of my new accountant's twelve furnished references. No cutting corners there.

Yes, the references you provide can mean the difference between job and no job. Some guidelines to get you started:

Big picture questions to ponder:

What are the significant skills and attributes required of the position, and which of my references can best showcase them?

Who can vouch for the success stories I share in interviews?

How can I build a 360 view of all I have to offer, using clients or their families, customers, current/former supervisors, mentors, managers from other departments, and people I’ve supervised?

With whom do I have credibility? Who will return recruiters' calls? Who will be eager to brag about me, and who will put my cause on the back burner?

Practicalities: Dotting the I’s, Crossing the T’s

Contact everyone on your list. Ask if you can use them as a reference. Make sure company policy will allow them to speak to the potential employer. And as you talk to your references, double-check phone numbers and e-mails.
Organize the list by category, making it clear how you know people and why they should be called.

Provide several extra names; inevitably someone will be on vacation, traveling for work, or otherwise unreachable.

Don’t use friends as references unless you have worked together and they can truly offer substantive information about your performance.

If you share written letters of recommendation, expect the employer to contact the authors for additional information. Again, make sure phone numbers are current.
Happy job hunting! These tips should help you groom your list of references both for your current job search and as you build your resume going forward.