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Do I know you? Asking for a reference in the digital age



"References available upon request" can seem traditional and outdated to include in a cover letter or resume, but professional references are still an important part of the hiring process. In an era dominated by the likes LinkedIn and Glassdoor, today’s employers and employees are becoming more choosy about who to hire and which companies to apply for.

Applicants go through lengths to vet a company’s culture, compensation, and benefits package through friends, or Glassdoor. Recruiters rely on platforms like LinkedIn and good ol’ phone screening to vet a candidate. But at the end of the day, while prospective employers may like what they see about an applicant on paper they need to be sure of their potential, so they'll often call up references to ask about the candidate's job performance and work ethic. But how can applicants better prepare their references? Do you really know what your previous manager thinks of you?

This is where the disconnect seems to take place. In today’s digital age, people rely on technology to display a public perception. For example, nearly every industry uses LinkedIn to find and vet job candidates, and over 90% of recruiters rely on the site, according to data from the Society of Human Resource Management. We have been trained to have our digital persona be a living, breathing record of our professional life. What does this have to do with references and collecting them from your boss?

I can only speak from my experience - and it hasn’t been a good one. In my previous life as a founder of multiple startups, I have been at the end of many interviews as I searched for engineers to join my team. Here’s what I noticed when it came to calling up references:

  1. Some applicants didn’t choose their reference wisely. It's important to know your references well. I will tell you that hiring managers don’t like surprises. Sure, the reference call is often the last step and often, we are calling to make sure you’re not the type to keep dead animals in your trunk. But by the time we get to the reference, we’ve made up our minds that we like you enough to share an office space with you. The last thing anyone wants to hear is how messy your desk is, how you’re often very late to meetings or worse, you regularly called in sick on Monday mornings. Select people who can confirm where you worked, your title, your reason for leaving, details regarding your strengths, and why you would be a good employee. Most of all, select references who will know how to raise your negative traits without making you look like a jerk.

  2. Some applicants don’t vet their references ahead of time. It's also important to have a good idea of what references are going to say about your background and your performance. Make sure that any information provided by your references corroborates what you have written in your resume and talked about in your interviews. I cannot believe how many applicants I ended up turning away because of Inconsistent information.

  3. Some applicants didn’t ask their references for a recommendation. Often, I found that the reference I am following up with didn’t even know I was calling - worst, they did not know that their employee had been interviewing for a new job. No need to dive into etiquette here, but if you are about to land the job of your dreams, wouldn’t you want to make sure that the last step before that offer will fully endorse you?

This is why I created Berry's. I really believe there is a gap here - I want to know what my previous managers thought of me, the good, the bad and ugly. But most of all, I think constructive feedback is important.

Just because a manager highlighted an area of improvement in my reference call, doesn’t necessarily make him a bad reference. If anything, it lets me prepare for an interview. I want to be able to bring up my flaws in a constructive manner during an interview so that when a hiring manager does perform a reference check, my manager will corroborate it - but I’ve already pre-empted whatever negative feedback I would have received. That, in my experience as a hiring m

anager, makes an applicant more trustworthy.

I really want to hear about your experience with following up on references. Please sound off below!

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