In the past, a reference check amounted to a cursory call just before extending an offer of employment, and it was a perfunctory part of hiring due diligence. The art of reference checking has expanded. Moreover, as people often provide references on their LinkedIn profile, they can serve to gain a candidate consideration in the first place, rather than as an "OK, done that call" at the end.
An unsophisticated reference check may only include verifying name, rank and serial number kinds of information. In those cases, someone in human resources will ask about previous job titles, employment dates, the reasons you left the company and your eligibility to be rehired at some future time. Other basic fact-type questions might deal with specific tools or software you used, timeliness or absenteeism.
Today's more sophisticated reference checkers will engage in a considerably more nuanced conversation to gain a greater level of insight about issues related to your fit for the position. Some of this information will be used in making the fundamental hire/no hire decision. Moreover, employers often glean information about what to expect and how best to manage you when you are hired.
Questions of this sort might include:
To determine your levels of insight/intelligence and eagerness to contribute: How would you grade this person's ability to anticipate the needs of the (company/team/manager) before they arise?
To learn how well you really communicate: What kinds of things did he or she best communicate, and how?
To determine your overall effectiveness and value: How did he or she contribute most to your company's bottom line?
To figure out your level of self-reliance and ability to be a self-starter: What kind of organizational structure and management would best make this employee shine?
To find out about your areas of weakness in a subtle way: If this employee were to stay on at your company, what would he or she need to do to earn a promotion?
To learn about your personality, ability to take direction and willingness to change attitude or actions: How well does this candidate take constructive criticism? How does he or she react when his or her ideas or ways of doing things aren't accepted?
To determine how well you fit into a team: Does this person like to share credit for his or her accomplishments? Can you give examples? Is he or she better working alone or as part of a group?
Knowing the kinds of information employers seek can enable you to make certain that your references are most effective. To do so, take the following steps:
1. Make certain to be in contact with your direct or indirect supervisors for the past several years or positions to determine how active they are willing to be on your behalf.
2. Invite at least one person connected to you at positions you've held in the last 10 years to provide a reference for you on LinkedIn. Make certain that you explain what specific qualities and actions you would find most helpful for the reference to cite, and do explain to your reference the steps he or she needs to take on LinkedIn so he or she won't get frustrated and give up on the process.
3. Make certain when you ask someone to be a reference for a specific employer that you provide to them as much information about the position and company as possible. Also give him or her the reasons you're interested in the role. By knowing the kind of environment you would be in, he or she can be prepared to explain how you would be a good fit.
When you take pains to figure out what employers want to know in general, you can take proactive steps to be certain that they get the right answers up front in your LinkedIn references. And you can then tailor the specific information for hot prospect jobs by working closely with the references you provide so that they can know how to best support your candidacy.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.