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References don’t have to be a waste of time

Imagine references as handing a baton in a relay race. You could ask the other runner simple questions, and they could say “Yes, I love this baton and you will too! I’ve been holding it for 5 years. It’s great, no complaints other than it works too hard. Of course, I’d love to hold it again.” But there's another way...

I’ve given and taken many references, some for recruiters who worked with or for me, and others for candidates I’ve placed. I’ve noticed another level of insight and sophistication that comes with viewing references as a real opportunity.

I’ve been impressed with recruiting hiring managers who press me for a real reference. They won’t stop at surface level answers. They want to make sure this person is set up for success, not simply that they’re a good hire. Those are two very different things. They share concerns and their own vulnerability with hiring the person and open the door to a meaningful conversation.

When I take references, I ask people questions like:

- What type of environment do they thrive in?

- What advice do you have for their new boss?

- What are some misconceptions about them in the workplace?

- I tell them what the job is and ask them for their reaction.

When the baton is changing hands, this is an opportunity to make sure it’s a smooth transition.

As always, more tips on the blog and sign up for the newsletter on my website:

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