To give or not to give…

One of your team have decided to move on…

And now they’re asking for a reference.

It’s not like they were the worst employee in the world…

They didn’t lie, cheat or steal. There were no serious under-performance issues. But they were not necessarily the top performer.

In the end you both parted ways on a handshake and a smile.

So why, can it feel like you’re walking into a trap?

Giving, following up on, and asking for references can all be professional hazards, for a variety of reasons.

Whether you’ve been following December’s ‘Poor Performance’ series and decided you have to let someone go, or just the thought of dealing with the ‘reference question’ makes you shiver a little inside…

I have some handy hints to make dealing with references a whole lot easier.

Why are references important?

This is an interesting topic at the moment as more and more employers seem to be following the US stance, which is saying that it’s company policy not to provide personal references at all (rather only a statement of services confirming position and years of service).

Remember, written references on their own are generally not worth too much as people can falsify those pretty easily.

In the same way, employees can provide false names or numbers of people to provide made up verbal references as well.

Personally, I place a lot of importance on reference checks. But they are only one part of the recruitment process and cannot be relied upon on their own.

So, today we’re going to answer the tough questions:

  • Should you agree to be a referee?
  • How do you check the legitimacy of a reference? 
  • And, what should you do when asking for a reference?

1. Should you be a referee? 

If you agree to be a referee…

Then you should be an honest one and only comment on the areas that you can confidently say you have witnessed outcomes in.

For this reason, we are seeing a trend of only great performers having referees prepared to provide references.

When providing the reference, provide a little information about the position you are referencing so the reader understands the context in which you are providing the reference around.

At the end of the day, it’s your personal brand AND integrity on the line, and can be damaged if you recommend someone that’s not successful.

2. How do you know if a referee is legitimate?

This can be difficult to guarantee.

However, below are a few tips to verify the person you are speaking to is legit:

  • Have each candidate fill out an Application Form that advises if they provide false information their employment may be terminated
  • Google your candidate first to see if what you find is consistent with the person you have met in the interview
  • Google your reference to confirm their position and title
  • LinkedIn can be a handy tool for checking validity and finding out if there is anyone you know who may be connected to them (remember that the reference may be able to see that you have been looking at them, so determine if you would like to do this privately or publicly)
  • If the reference provides a landline, try that number first to confirm where the referee works

3. What to do when asking for references?

Here are the key things you need to be aware of when asking for references:

  • Try to provide at least one reference from a direct reporting manager (often employers will ask for all references to be reporting managers)
  • Always give referees a heads up. Frequently people put down referees without cross-checking with them first. This can be awkward for the referee to be approached without prior warning
  • Brief your referee on the new role and position. Often a referee will be asked if they would recommend the person for the position. It’s much more believable when they are aware of the position
  • Be aware of what a referee may say about you by asking them what they believe your key strengths are and your areas for improvement
  • Keep your references updated and thank them if they are contacted

Any questions?

If you have questions on this topic or any others, feel free to reach me by email or set up a free one-on-one consultation session, or drop me a comment below.

Thanks for sharing!