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Employment References

Updated on July 12, 2015

Be Careful of Candidate References

As someone with over 30 years of management experience in Administration and Operations, I have learned to give little credence to job references.

Years ago, I desired to hire an expert designer for a job opening. After interviewing the candidate, my gut told me that this candidate might not be the best person for the job but I decided to speak with their existing supervisor. After speaking to their supervisor and hearing such glowing reviews, I decided to hire the candidate.

But hiring the candidate was a big mistake. It's true that regardless of their experience, all new employees need to get acclimated to their new work environment, procedures and processes. However, I didn't expect that the employee would rely so heavily on other designers for ongoing support.

In other words, this employee, didn't have all the skills necessary for the job and was an average performer. The candidate worked hard but working hard and accomplishing little is unacceptable.

As a result, I developed a tier job classification system for Senior and entry level designers and re-classified the newest candidate as an entry level rather than an expert designer.

The take away from this was that all future employees were given a design test. For example, at the interview, all new applicants were provided with an instructional disk which required them to create a specific design, on the spot.

This provided me with the opportunity to see exactly what the candidates could do under pressure and it was part of their interview with me. Using this method, I hired exceptional candidates and from that point on, I developed questions that would allow me to extract and determine whether or not the candidate was saying what they thought I desired to hear rather than over-stating their experience and job performance.

I look for hungry candidates and I don't mean candidates hungry for food! I mean I look for employees who will go way beyond the call of duty to get the job done and step outside of their normal job descriptions for the betterment of the department.

I had one instance where an employee came in at midnight to complete a job that was due the next day. Okay, I don't expect employees to come in at midnight to work unless, that's their start time. But the initiative that this employee took, far exceeded my expectations and the results were outstanding.

For this reason, when my department was outsourced and I was promoted to a Director's position, I brought that employee along with me along with other key employees in my department.

The point of this story is to caution employers from putting so much stock in candidate references because you could also end up on the other end of the spectrum...You may have a great candidate who is not liked by their current boss and they will sail the candidate down the river merely because they have the power to do so. Instead, I would recommend developing stiff hiring criteria, tough questions, test where feasible and finally, go with your gut feelings.

In a nutshell, bosses have different levels of expectations. I know that I have very high expectations of employees and generally, most employees under my direction, rise to the occasion and often exceed my expectations so in that respect, I've been lucky.


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    • poetryman6969 profile image


      3 years ago

      There are a lot of folks who look good on paper or who have a lot of certificates but don't really know how to get the work done.


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