A couple recent requests for references put me in an awkward situation. One issue was the prior employee had not listed clients or roles that I could identify. The other issue was an unrealistic timely response expectation. Both happened in the same week, so I thought I better write about this as it is that time of year for new engagements to be kicking off.
The final stages of any interview process usually include providing the potential employer with references. Reference checks are common in our industry and should be carefully considered before sending in. The request is likely to provide professional references that can speak to your skill sets and expertise. Most companies use a third party to conduct references rather than an internal HR resource reaching out.
There are some common mistakes candidates make.
Below are 5 simple tips to remember when selecting your references.
1. Use previous supervisors from your firm, not clients – If you list a client, don’t be surprised if they don’t follow up on a request for a reference. Many companies have strict policies and how or when they can provide a reference. As a former consultant, rather than a full time employee, clients have limitations to information they can provide. Using your immediate supervisor from your prior firm is a better option. They’ll be able to speak to all of your engagements, not a single project.
2. Select someone who knows you and your work capabilities – While listing a prior executive of your firm may look good on paper, they may not be able to speak to your skill sets. Most firms have practice managers or project leads. Use those who directly interacted with you during your engagement(s). Don’t limit your list to just prior managers, you can list colleagues as well.
3. Be sure to list your firms name and the clients you supported – I recently was asked for a referral but could not align the candidate with any of the engagements listed. As consultants you may have worked for many firms and even more clients. Link the two so that anyone calling can be clear. Best way is on your resume to list the firm and the engagements under that employer with dates of each project supported, especially if you are a CT or ATE resource.
4. Ask permission to list someone as a reference first – Always take a moment to reach out to the individuals you plan to list for references. A phone call is usually best so you can elaborate on the role you are applying. Any information you can provide will also be helpful to get the best response. Try to obtain information on the company’s referral process. Do they simply call, or do they have an online process? Don’t blind side your references, they may not respond.
5. Use references from work provided within last 3 years – Timely references with work more recently completed will likely result in a more accurate summary of your skills. Listing anything more than three years may not align with your current skills or capabilities and could inadvertently not align with the job you are interviewing for.
Be sure to follow up with those you listed after words to extend your gratitude. As consultants we may have a few different engagements in a year and need to provide references regularly. Keeping in touch with those you’ve identified as ideal references will only help expedite the process for future requests.
Have you given or requested references that didn’t work out? Share your comments below.