Many of you who have hired, supervised or managed staff in the past will, at some stage or another, find yourself being asked to be a referee. If the employee was a star you will usually have no hesitation in providing the prospective new employer conducting the reference check with all the information they need to confirm should they hire the person.
But what about when the employee was less than perfect? And let’s face it, very few are completely perfect – do you provide constructive criticisms to help the potential employer make the decision to hire the person? Or do you gloss over the details, not wanting to say anything negative or impact the chances of the individual getting the job?
As a Recruiter, we get to see the full gamut of responses, because we conduct more than the average number of reference checks when screening our candidates. From this experience, I have seen referees who were trying to be nice, giving feedback which resulted in the employee getting a role they were destined to fail in, right through to the most glowing – and conversely most critical references, our responses have spanned the full range. So what’s the best thing to do when faced with a reference check call on an employee who could have used some improvement, or simply wasn’t right for that role?
Here are my top tips to being a ‘great referee’:
- Be honest – you are doing no one a good service by lying during a reference check, or omitting details which could be important for the prospective employer to know.
- Stick to the facts – sometimes it can be hard, but try and leave the emotion out of it. If you need to provide some criticism of the employee, stick to facts which can be easily supported by documentation – things like excessive sick leave, performance issues which were being managed, conflicts with other staff or customers etc.
- Use examples – if you can give the reference check examples of how the behaviour or skills miss match effected their work performance, and the impact it had on the organisation, this will help them to make a decision about whether it would be relevant to their business or not.
- Take a balanced approach, give examples of both the positives and the negatives, sometimes it can be easy to get ‘caught up’ and focus on the positives, and forget to mention any potential negatives, and vice versa
- Think about what you would like to know if it was you asking for the reference check. If you were the potential employer would you want / need to know feedback about their performance, work ethic, skills or experience? If it’s relevant to you, it may well be relevant to the potential employer you are speaking to.
You are not helping the employee by setting them up to fail. If the employee is not right for the role, then you are not doing them any favours by telling a potential employer they are the perfect applicant. In the end, they may not succeed in the role; this may in fact be more damaging for their confidence and employment opportunities. By providing a reference check suggesting they can do a role which you know from your experience they are not best suited to, you could be setting them up for an ultimately detrimental experience. In sum, honesty and balanced citations in your reference will help your employee succeed in a position that best suits them. Remember that your feedback is not the only tool the potential employer is using to make a decision – so don’t feel guilty about being honest.