Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Kristen Fife's Blog

Your "Unofficial" References

2017-12-15 12:29:42

You've completed your background check (returned with nothing negative), given the recruiter your professional references (including your former manager, a client, and a peer) and they were all contacted. Then...nothing. Finally you hear back from the recruiter telling you that they have decided to go with another candidate, even though you were convinced you were going to get an offer. What happened?

From a recruiting perspective, professional references given by the candidate mean almost nothing to me. Of course they are going to provide the names of people that will give them glowing reviews. In the last decade or so, the term that has become more prevalent among hiring managers and recruiters is "backchannel references". What does this mean? Basically, someone is going to reach out to other people they know at the company that may know your work and ask for some feedback "off the record" (usually the hiring manager makes the outreach). LinkedIn is used for this quite often; look up your manager that you gave as a reference, then see if there is a peer or a stakeholder you most likely worked with that may have an opinion on your work. Is it legal? Yup. So you think it's unfair? Well, if you were being asked out on a date by someone you barely knew, wouldn't you ask your friends about him/her and take their opinion under advisement? You might even find their ex on Facebook or LinkedIn and ask for an opinion (trust me, I should have done that with my own last relationship...and I already knew the ex and would have saved myself a WORLD of heartache). Don't you look on Glassdoor and reach out to other professional contacts that do/have worked at the company to find out more about the company and even the team? It's no different; it just feels more intrusive because it is a business, and not personal.

I know for a fact that in the course of my own career I have lost at least one offer because of a backchannel reference. It was very early in my career, and I learned a very valuable lesson: guard your reputation like nothing else in your professional life. That particular manager is still in the recruiting arena in Seattle and we have crossed paths on more than one occasion. I have been in the position of recommending whether to pursue her or not on more than one occasion, and when I am asked, I will share my experience with my own manager.

One thing you can do is ask for professional endorsements on LinkedIn *while you are working with them*. Ask them to write SPECIFICS (vs. generic "John is great! I really enjoy working with him!") about working with you, including how you made their life easier, and how being awesome at your job benefited the organization, your best skills. If you *know* there is someone that could give you a bad reference, tell the recruiter when s/he asks for your "official" list and explain the context or situation.

As the world becomes more connected, and individuals are less concerned with personal privacy, you will see much more blurring of the lines in the business world. It's the price society pays for uber-community.

Some additional reading:

Formatting Your Resume For The Hiring Manager - Your Target Audience
Phone Screens - Good And Bad Examples

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