Reference Point

Would you say…?

An oft-overlooked part of the job hunt is the reference check. But overlook this at your own peril.

References are distinct from verification [education, licensure and so on] and background [criminal check, credit etc] and a lot of us brush them off.

But don't be in such a hurry.

Think of references in three forms.

Giving Information

  • In the US telling the truth about someone's work history or experience it is generally allowable. So if someone with a checkered track record had been imprudent enough to list you as a reference you may tell the truth when asked. This brings up a key point: check with your references before you give out their names. Believe it or not, people do include bad references on their CV
  • Some of us are flattered when asked to provide a reference. We feel important in the midst of an otherwise Dilbert-like day. Beware: do not project beliefs, develop a quasi-psychological profile or in any way expound subjectively on the person you're being asked about. The truth is only a defense if you, uh, tell the truth

Receiving information

  • When seeking references bear in mind that while you can ask anything you're in a much better position if everything you inquire about is job-related. The majority of contacts will be happy to give you work information but many if not all will shy away from things like “character” or “moral” assessments. As they should. Be careful about asking questios that are tenuously related to performance of work
  • Likewise be especially careful about capturing anything that is not job-related or sounds like a personal opinion or attack. The law genereally protects the user of information if same is deemed to be reliable, but it does put the onus on us to test such information for credibility. Its up to us to smell something fishy and give those remarks less credence. Certainly anyone who sounds like they have an axe to grind should be excluded: bad references are one thing – attacks are another

Public Domai

  • The heart of this issue today is that there are so many digital footprints available to determine what a candidate “is like” personal references can be almost ancillary. Time and again candidates are moved down in ranking based in part of what's learned about them on the web. Now, the truth is most recruiters I know don't really care about the occasional FB celebrating the Red Sox with a beer in hand. You ought to be able to live your life. But on your LI profile pic? Every tweet you write?
  • And those “rants” that cleansed your soul when you posted them on Yelp! or that particularly snotty blog you felt so smug about way back when can all become part of the reference package. A part of the process to determine who you are as a person, what you're like. Do you need to be a saint? No. Should you recognize people will dig into your profile? Yes, you should

No one is perfect. The old joke is that if a reference checker saw Jesus walking on the water he might write in his summary, 'Jesus can't swim.' So live your life and let things be.

Bear in mind then that the way you work with others, and the way you present yourself to the public will be both noted and remembered.

So be who you are.

Just remember we're watching.


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