By Nicholas Buck

References are an integral part of good candidate assessment. While interviews, psychometrics and other evaluative steps are self-contained within the duration of the process, references place your candidacy in a deeper, more three-dimensional landscape. They are the testimony of your performance through the lens of a client, a colleague or a manager, and provide keen insight as to how you perform in the real world.

In short, references matter!

If you’re in a recruitment process and have been asked to provide references, this is good news on two fronts. Firstly, it’s typical to reference only one or two candidates, so be encouraged that you’ve made it to the concluding stages of a competitive exercise. Secondly, while the prior steps in the process require a level of self-promotion, references are a chance for you to relax (somewhat) and let someone else advocate on your behalf. At these times, it can be nice to have someone else do the talking!

For those who feel some anxiety about ‘being referenced’ - a term with an unnerving, mafioso undertone - be assured that it’s uncommon for an appointment to hinge purely on a reference. More often than not, a reference is undertaken to provide the hirer with insight as to the contexts in which you perform best, and how best to support your transition into the new organisation.

Below are a few pointers to ensure your selection of - and relationship with - referees can used to best effect: 

Choose wisely. Choosing wisely doesn’t mean finding referees who will hagiographise your candidacy and provide uncritical praise. Those overseeing a process seek accuracy and balance in a referee: What contexts give you energy? How do you perform under pressure? How do you work with people who think differently to you? What areas for development do you have? And so on. An authentic voice and a balanced advocate is the best kind of referee.

Keep them informed. Before a hirer makes contact with referees, they should seek your permission to do so. This also allows you time to give referees a heads-up: That is, letting them know why they’re being contacted, how you’re tracking in the process, and a bit of detail about the role. The more candid you can be with your referees about the situation, the more useful the conversation they’re likely to have with the hirer (or their representative).

Fear not. I’ve sometimes encountered reluctance to provide references – reluctance from both candidates and, sometimes, referees themselves - for fear that details of any conversation would be circulated beyond those directly involved in the process. Be reassured that the Privacy Act requires this information be kept strictly confidential to decision-makers and their agents. Being indiscreet with reference data is also likely to have an immediate and adverse effect on the hirer’s employer brand. As such, all parties to an appointment are invested in treating your information with the utmost care and confidentiality.

If you would like to discuss references, referees or any other aspect of an appointment process, do feel free to get in touch.

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