We all know the feeling of doing well in our interviews when looking for a new position. Then comes the request for your references. This is an area that needs the same amount of strategic thought and attention as interview preparation but is often taken for granted as candidates select three people they know will say good things about them. Perhaps you should ask yourself, what kind of professional references do I need?
Another area impacted by the pandemic is the interview process. There are still fewer in-person interviews happening, which means that human resources executives are dependent on other tactics to ensure they are fully vetting candidates. According to Korn Ferry senior client partner George Atkinson, “There’s no better way to get direct input on someone than from a reference,”
Every role and every organization is different. The selection of your professional references should be tailored to the specific job and company you’re interviewing with. You need to select references that can speak to skills that are relevant to the specific position.
Other suggestions from Korn Ferry include utilizing common connections you have with the hiring decision-maker. LinkedIn is an easy way to see if you share a mutual connection. If so, confirm that the connection does indeed know the hiring connection. As you know we have different levels of connections on LinkedIn and someone we connected with but haven’t kept up with or know well would not be a beneficial mutual connection.
Have you taken on new or different responsibilities over the past year and a half? The pandemic has changed the work many people do, which could result in people interviewing for a position that is slightly different from what they did in the past. Having references that can speak to your transferable skills is beneficial in these circumstances.
Another suggestion is to choose different roles instead of just asking your last few supervisors. You could choose someone you managed, a peer in another department, or even a partner or vendor that you worked closely with in your prior position, as long the person selected is relevant to the role.
Don’t forget about your personal connections either. This can be important for determining soft skills such as decision-making and leadership style. Do you have contacts through volunteer or community work that can speak to your personal attributes?
Make sure you’re using references that are from more recent positions. Using a great reference from a job you were in more than 10 years ago could be detrimental, as the hiring manager may question why a more recent contact was not selected. You should keep a list of current people you can ask.
Lastly and maybe most importantly, ask the company you’re interviewing with for references. According to Atkinson, “If you are serious about a job, you owe it to yourself to talk to as many people as possible about the company and the person you are going to work for.”