Remove the "Chance" from References

You’ve made it past several layers of interviews and now you’re one of two final candidates. The process is getting tighter and the organization is crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. “We need a few references as part of our final vetting, “ you’re told. That sounds simple. As a physician coming from or currently working in a clinical setting referencing is very straightforward. You simply tell them where you work or have privileges and any departmental information and perhaps the organizational leadership. After all, this is supposed to be a fairly transparent and objective process. Right? 

In your clinical setting, yes, but for an executive or nonclinical role, absolutely not.

Nonclincial references are a three-step process. First the process, then the “why.” 

1.    When you’re asked for references, your first response is a positive sounding affirmative. For example, “yes, of course, I’ll be happy to provide you with as many references as you wish.”

Once that exchange is complete you then ask, “Who would you like to speak with? What information would you like to secure?”

The organization may then say, we want to learn about,

    • Management style
    • Decision-making process
    • How you work with others
    • The quality of your “work product”

You should then ask, “how many…” Depending on the organization’s criteria, you may want to ask if they are seeking peer relationships, subordinate or superior. They may or may not care.

Regardless, this information tells you what you need to supply. Now you need to determine whom you believe can and will provide it. Once you’ve identified your preferred references, step two. 

2.    The second step is your vetting of the references. Based on the organization’s objectives, try to match as closely as possible your past associations. Then, contact the reference specific to one of the organization’s questions and tell him/her your situation: “Hello Jane, I’m a finalist with Acme Medical for the Medical Director’s job and they would like to conclude their vetting of me by speaking with a few references. May I tell you want they wish to learn, and ask if you would be willing to be my reference?”

You’ve effectively teed up the question but also put it in a context that allows Jane to decline comfortably. If Jane asks you to proceed, you explain what the company wishes to know, again referencing one specific question. For example, “They are very interested in my team development and teaming skills. I thought of you because…. We worked together developing the new crash cart policies and procedures and in implementing those among various groups in order to create both an upgraded response protocol and to increase response consistency.”  Now you’ve told Jane exactly what you wish her to say. If she responds affirmatively and clearly states her comfort in extolling your role in that process, great. Next, you tell her the other areas of interest from the organization, as a heads up, but state you intend to specify her knowledge of this single area of interest. If Jane affirms her comfort and willingness, one down… If Jane expresses any concern or expresses any criticism of the issue, such as, “Well yes, we did that, but there were certainly some problems with implementation…. “ then just say thanks and end the call as quickly and quietly as possible. “Thank you Jane, I will appreciate any support you may offer and I’ll let you know if this is to proceed.” In other words, thanks, but no thanks. 

Then repeat this process until you have the topics and the number of references complete.

3.    Step three, contact the organization and present your list of references:

1.     REFERENCE NUMBER ONE—— he/she knows me in this capacity and will be happy to answer your questions regarding my team development and participation skills and style.

2.     REFERENCE NUMBER TWO — he/she knows me in this capacity and will be happy to answer your questions regarding my decision-making processes and ability.

3.     ETC>>>>

Then ask if a time frame exists to contact the references, and state you will inform them as such to assure their availability… then you do just that. Lastly, I like to follow up with references, ask them to drop you a note following their contact with the organization, and ask how the conversation went. Never criticize, never say, I wish you hadn’t said that, or, I would have preferred you say this…. That’s part of learning how to mange your references. Thank them for whatever they do.

This probably seems like a lot of work and it may seem a bit like cooking the books. It is, and it isn’t. It is work. Very often you’ll have references simply ask, will you write that up for me? And you should. Consider this, your very best reference can easily say something in jest, to be humorous or to relate a somewhat different side of you, thinking it harmless and it ends your candidacy. None of your references wants to do that, nor can you risk it.

At the executive level, organizations want referencing to reinforce their existing positive attitudes towards you and they want them to be concise and on-point. It’s not a witch-hunt, but a confirmation. This process increases that likelihood.