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VICTORIA, Texas — “I don’t understand what happened.  Their references were really good.”

That is a common statement made when board members or human resource executives are asked to explain why the candidate they hired did not work out,  was “not a good fit.”

candidate referencesNote to Candidates:  If you submit a list of references who you know will say good things about you but may not be able to speak about your record of success with specific challenges, you will be just like 90 percent of the competition candidates.

Note to Employers:  If the candidate does not provide at least three, preferably four, references that include a former boss or supervisor, one peer, and one subordinate, all who can speak to their experience, strengths and record of accomplishment, that should serve as a yellow, if not a red, flag.

Employers:  The truth is that good reference reports are no guarantee that your choice of candidates will succeed in your organization.  The secret to success in recruiting is a robust screening process, carefully planned in-depth interviews, comprehensive background investigations and a list of references who can provide a 360-degree perspective of how the candidate leads and whether they can handle the challenges and culture of the new job.

Candidates:  Any action that makes you look more like your competition for the job, is a silly waste of time.  Why not integrate your answers with what you know your references will say, alluding in your answers to those individuals on your list who can speak to a specific issue?  Providing a strong panel of colleagues you have worked for, worked with, and supervised, can provide a powerful exclamation point to the claims of performance and success that you made during the interviews, and they could help you close the deal.

So many times otherwise strong candidates weaken their chances of being hired with references who are unfamiliar with certain accomplishments, or have no knowledge of their strengths.  “I don’t know,” or “I can’t speak to that,” are responses  we hear in reference interviews far more often than we should.  It suggests that a candidate’s reference list is an afterthought to the employment process, something they threw together at the last minute.

Reference list management is an important part of the candidate interview process. This will be a subject Nancy Swain and I discuss  in our presentation on interview skills at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress on May 17th at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago.