How can I check my references?
September 12, 2012 4:51 PM   Subscribe

HR filter - how do I check my own professional references?

Since I'm casually in the job-hunting market, it occurred to me that I might want to check my own professional references, so that I can maintain more control over what kind of image I convey. Although I trust my references motives and feel confident that none of them would ever backstab me, I'm not always 100% sure that they would do the best job conveying an image of me as the highly competent professional that I am. I've heard on other people's AskMes that the best way to do this is to have a friend call your references and pretend to be the HR department at another company. This sounds like reasonable advice. However, I want to make absolutely sure that my friend does not arouse suspicion, as my references would undoubtedly feel wounded if they thought I lacked confidence in their ability to represent me.

My question is this: what questions do HR departments tend to ask when they contact references? And what questions do they never ask? Is there a general script my friend can use?
posted by wolfdreams01 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You're relying on an outdated model of how HR vets people.

In this gloriously networked modern age don't get to pick your references anymore. People connected to you on LinkedIn are contacted before you even come in the door for the first interview; it a standard part of the screening process.

The references you give people, after they've decided to hire you, are called as a formality (and usually by a third party) while your prospective employer is doing the usual due-diligence background and criminal-record checks.

With that in mind, my advice is not to try; it won't help you with anything.
posted by mhoye at 5:17 PM on September 12, 2012


In this gloriously networked modern age don't get to pick your references anymore. People connected to you on LinkedIn are contacted before you even come in the door for the first interview; it a standard part of the screening process.

This is not accurate. I have never heard of anyone doing this, even once.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:34 PM on September 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


Have your friend call and say, "hi, my name is FakeName and I'm calling to follow up on a reference we have for wolfdreams01 before we decide to hire him as a JobTitle. Is there any thing about wolfdreams01's job performance at PlaceYoureCalling that would suggest he's not a good fit for this position? Would you recommend him for the role?"

I say that because I am the person at my company who would be calling for a reference, and that is just about exactly what I would say.

mhoye's answer is not correct, at least not universally. We've been doing a lot of resume-taking lately, and we've never used someone's LinkedIn connections to judge them. (We do google the heck out of everybody...we declined to interview one person (who was otherwise not very well suited to the position based on her resume anyway) partially because she had really asinine stuff on her twitter feed. That said, for someone who's got the right experience and skills, internet presence isn't really factored into it too much.) But if an actual, human person were to say that a candidate were no good, or even little bit questionable, we wouldn't hire them.

Definitely have your friend call.
posted by phunniemee at 5:53 PM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have been asked by former employees using me as a reference to talk to them about what I say. This has not been a problem for me at all, I am more than willing to be candid and honest. If you have a good relationship with these people, that might be a good place to start.

"So, Former Employer Jane, I'm casually looking for jobs and as you know I use you as a professional reference. I feel that my best chance is to emphasize X, Y and Z. Is that in line with what you would say?"
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:55 PM on September 12, 2012


This is not accurate. I have never heard of anyone doing this, even once.

Hmmm. Where are you, both in geographical and sectoral terms? I'm in Toronto, and in the sectors I've been involved in recently (tech, finance) it's a standard practice.

It may not be universally true.
posted by mhoye at 6:25 PM on September 12, 2012


I agree with the others, my organization has never contacted any references other than the ones provided - it doesn't really seem fair, because typically it is expected and polite for the applicant to warn references and have their permission ahead of time to use them as a reference, whereas if you "cold call" a contact from LinkedIn it seems a bit overbearing or forthright.

Because I am in an admin position at the organization I also serve as a reference for many people. In my experience, many of them, maybe 50%, don't even want to talk on the phone. They just send me an e-mail either asking me if I would hire this person again and if not, why not, (or some other short series of questions), or they send me some kind of form or survey to fill out about the person. That may be specific to the fields, though, most of the people I serve as a reference for were interns with us and are getting entry-level jobs in the public health field.

One suggestion - something that some applicants have done with me as their reference (and some people who I have asked to be my reference have asked me to do) is to put together a short bullet-point list of what the strengths are that they would like me to convey to whoever calls.

It sounds a bit presumptuous but it can be done in a tactful way so that you actually come off as organized/put together, i.e. "the job description is for skills x, y, and z, and I think that I would do well because of a, b, c experience that I had with your organization." And it gives them an excuse to be lazy and just read off your list if they want to when they are contacted. People like that.

Obviously though this will not uncover potentially negative things they would say about you, but the advice I have always heard on that is to candidly ask your reference if they can provide you with a strong positive reference, and hope that they are honest enough to tell you no if that is the truth.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:32 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is not accurate. I have never heard of anyone doing this, even once.

I've never seen it either, and we're a major organization in the arts and culture sector. I check out the LinkedIn of applicants but would not dream of contacting people linked to them unless I personally knew those people.

We call references after a couple of successful interviews, at the last stage before the offer. Have a friend call and pose, as suggested.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]



In this gloriously networked modern age don't get to pick your references anymore. People connected to you on LinkedIn are contacted before you even come in the door for the first interview; it a standard part of the screening process.

The references you give people, after they've decided to hire you, are called as a formality (and usually by a third party) while your prospective employer is doing the usual due-diligence background and criminal-record checks.


Just to chime in with Miko and drjimmy11, that's definitely not a standard part of the screening process, at least not in the US. I've never once heard of this, and I recently had a reference question of my own that led me to comb every article and job blog I could find for information on the topic. (Plus I just can't imagine anyone doing this because it would be such poor form to cold-call a stranger soliciting information about a third party.)

Also, references are not always called as a formality after a decision has been made. Sometimes they're called to help decide between two candidates who both interviewed well. This has happened to me before--my references were called after the second round of interviews, and I ended up not getting the job. I just wanted to put that out there because I think it's important to prevent misinformation.
posted by désoeuvrée at 3:18 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm with mhoyle. The Boston-area tech world is surprisingly small and people feel free to talk to one another. For my current job, my "real" references were checked as a formality (one after I started) and other people got calls. For my last job, they didn't even ask for "real" references but they spoke with at least three people who knew me (one of whom I wasn't even connected with via social media).

In other words, your reputation matters more than your "references".
posted by cranberry_nut at 5:20 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait a second - now I'm rather concerned. Most of my LinkedIn contacts are people I currently work with. Does that mean that people are calling my co-workers and asking them about me, effectively letting my employer know that I am looking for a new job?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2012


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