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I have an interview with a recruiter and she asked me to bring 4 references to the interview...which I know is pretty standard. The problem is that I'm a manager for a very small company and I only have 2 people that can know I'm even considering another career. I have good relationships with everyone in the office, but I don't think it would be a good situation if anyone else knew. This is the only job I've had since graduating from college 7 years ago, so I don't have any other company references. What is the best way to explain something like this to a recruiter?

tomw's picture

[quote="ra725"]What is the best way to explain something like this to a recruiter?[/quote]

You don't explain, you find them. This is just another challenge and you'll often be expected to meet challenges and come out successful.

First off, do you know anyone outside your company? References do not always have to be coworkers or supervisors. They could be a teacher from school that you keep up with, the pastor of your church, or maybe a head of a volunteer group that you are involved in. Somehow, find those two extra references.

A lack of references looks bad; either you really don't know anyone (i.e., you don't have networking skills, which is not a good sign for management) or you don't know anyone who will say something good about you professionally. Neither one is a good thing!

Secondly, learn from this moment. Start networking as much as you can so you don't get caught like this again. There is a great podcast on that.

tomas's picture

References can be a problem, especially when you have been loyal and had a stable employment history and don't want your current boss to know that you are looking to leave. That situation can leave you scrambling to find acceptable references.

All you can do is to try your best. It might be that 2 solid references and 2 non-work references will be ok. On the other hand they might not accept references from people you have not directly worked for in a work setting, in which case you might not be able to give what they want. In that situation all you can do is given them what you have and explain the situation. If it costs you the job there's not a lot you can really do.

tomw's picture

[quote="tomas"]References can be a problem, especially when you have been loyal and had a stable employment history and don't want your current boss to know that you are looking to leave. That situation can leave you scrambling to find acceptable references[/quote]

I totally disagree. In most situations, a manager doesn't want anyone within their current company to know they're looking. Any decent recruiter or HR person will know this. References must come from somewhere else.

You can maintain professional relationships with all kinds of people outside your company. Maybe it's someone you met at a conference then collaborated on some issue or someone you worked with on a joint venture project. They are people you've worked with in some way, just not within your company. They can vouch for your customer service skills, dedication to quality, or problem solving ability.

Listen to the "How to build a network" podcast. There's no reason not to have a network of connections to draw references from, even if you've been in the same position for 20 years and don't want a single person in your current company to know you're looking.

HMac's picture

Just to add another perspective: it's not unrealistic to expect "more than one bite at this apple" -

You might give them several references NOT including people at your current company, with the very reasonable explanation that it's a small company and you've been there for seven years since college.

Ask them to feel free to call on the references you've provided, and if they're STILL looking for more information (and that would be a strong signal of their interest in you...), you MIGHT be able to provide references from your current employer, BUT that would assume they would be very necessary to making the final decision.

That approach would get you a couple of things:

1. If they call your references at all, that's a good indicator of their interest

2. They might hire you without doing references (it happens!), or be satisfied with the references you've provided - so there's never a need to alert those from your current employer

3. If they come back to you looking for the additional references that's a great "additional conversation" for you - you can find out more about their timing and their interest in you. Essentially you've created a "conversation point" in that part of the process where there's usually no contact with you, and you're left waiting on an outcome.

Let's be honest about the potential risk: they make a decision against you that they would not have if they spoke to references from your current employer.

My personal opinion is that's a low risk (and an acceptable one, compared to alerting colleagues that you're looking at other companies). I think that if an employer is that interested in you, and they really feel they need the reference from the current employer, they'll say so.

Good luck!

tomas's picture

Hugh raises a very good point about timing. Reference checking usually happens very late in the recruitment process, generally right before the offer is made. It serves the purpose of performing due diligence and is a way of checking that your employment history actually holds up to scrutiny.

I generally haven't provided my references to a recruiter unless I am quite well advanced in the recruitment process and it hasn't been an issue (at least as far as I know). If you provide the 4 best references you have, you should be okay and the recruiter will let you know if they need more.

I also agree with TomW's suggestion of using your network to provide references, and could provide the other 2 references you are after. If you haven't built your network then use this as a reminder of the value of doing so.

In order of preference (from greatest to least) it would be something like current manger->previous manager->current or previous co-worker->non-work reference. Of course, if the non-work related reference is particularly prestigious or relevant to the role it might very well be at the top of the list.

tcomeau's picture

[quote="ra725"]This is the only job I've had since graduating from college 7 years ago, so I don't have any other company references. What is the best way to explain something like this to a recruiter?[/quote]

Since I'm currently on the other end of this, I can tell you what I'd like to see.

First, I need at least one person in authority who can speak to your current work. Ideally, an previous boss at that company, a supervisor who left the company on good terms, or a senior person you've worked with.

Beyond that, I need somebody who can verify that you did what you claimed were your significant accomplishments. Again, a more senior coworker, a team leader, maybe a peer who is also a manager.

While 7 years is a while, if you've stayed in touch with your advisor, or a teach with whom you had a good relationship, that would also be helpful.

I don't like "personal references" but that's another story, and other managers like them just fine. If one of your four was "personal" (church leader, Rotary president, etc) I'd count it as one of the four, but I wouldn't contact them.

So, you need four names and contact information, and two of them should be able to speak authoritatively (and I hope positively) about your work in your company over the past seven years.

That's what I'd want, but your mileage may vary. If you still feel you can't cough up four, just tell the recruiter straight out what your situation is, and see what happens. Then improve your network.

tc>

US41's picture

I have never called references before on anyone I have hired since I found manager tools. I don't plan to ever start doing this. I think it is useless for the same reasons a 360 degree review is useless.

If the person was disliked due to cultural mismatch, being put in a role where their talents were not appreciated, or was mismanaged, I'll get a negative reference and it won't tell me anything useful.

If the person was well-loved because they are a charming person who was working in a department where results didn't really matter and no one was driven to perform or managed, then I will get a positive reference that won't tell me anything useful.

For me, the bottom line is that I don't trust other managers to give references that are accurate, because I have rarely found any gossip about anyone I have hired to be very accurate. As bad as the interviewing process I use is, I think I learn more there than from references. References are mostly a popularity contest.

However, I am interested in confirming employment before I hire on a new employee. And I will ask my own team if they have ever worked with the person. I let the contracting company take care of that on a new contractor. There are people I trust whom I will ask for an opinion from. But I'm not going to bother calling from a pre-packaged list provided by the candidate designed to steer me toward friends and relatives who will say "This guy - he's alright." That isn't going to help me any.

99% of managers don't do reviews right, don't do O3's, don't give feedback, and don't coach anyone to develop. Certainly 90% of the managers I have had did none of this and completely dodged the role of catalyst.

Why would I care what those people have to say about reports they never met with regularly, built a relationship with, cared about, or developed?

terrih's picture

I had the opposite week before last... someone called me for a reference for one of my DRs. I didn't know she's looking for another job, although it doesn't surprise me. It DID surprise me to get such a call, though, so it caught me a bit flat-footed.

I remember what my previous supervisor used to say about giving references... if he couldn't say anything nice, he wouldn't say anything at all, because he was afraid he'd get sued if he did. I do remember him talking about getting called for a reference for a problem child after she had quit... he told the caller "Yes, she did work here, that's all I'm prepared to say" and they replied, "I understand." I think I remember a discussion here a while back that concluded that such worries are unfounded.

Back to my situation... my DR hasn't said anything about job-hunting... should I bring it up, or play dumb? (I started to delete that last phrase, because as soon as I typed it I remembered the Horstman's Law that states "There are no secrets.") Did I just answer my own question? :wink:

jhack's picture

Terri,

Do you want her to stay?

Do you want to know why she's looking?

Even if you don't mind losing her, you might want to know what's working and what's not. Folks with an offer in hand are often willing to "speak truth to power" - use that to your advantage.

John

terrih's picture

John,

I already know why she's looking. Part of it stems from a grievance she has from before I got promoted to supervisor.

You make a good point in general, though I don't believe it applies in this case. I've tried to salvage the situation, but as a brand new supervisor stepping into a cow patty not of my own making, it was probably beyond my capacity. Ah well.

tcomeau's picture

[quote="terrih"]I...
Back to my situation... my DR hasn't said anything about job-hunting... should I bring it up, or play dumb? (I started to delete that last phrase, because as soon as I typed it I remembered the Horstman's Law that states "There are no secrets.") Did I just answer my own question? :wink:[/quote]

I thinks so, mostly. You might give her some feedback along the lines of "when I get a call checking a reference without warning, it's hard for me to give a positive, prepared comment on somebody's work." That's the feedback I'd give somebody who used me as a reference without warning me, (or better, asking me!) whether or not they were a current employee.

In fact, I'd start off with the feedback, and see if she wants to 'fess up about the current state of her job search. But I'm inclined to be a little snarky anyway. :twisted:

tc>

AManagerTool's picture

I would think that any direct report of mine who has the stones to list me as a reference while actively employed by me without telling me is a bit of a liability. At the very least, it demonstrates to me that either she made a huge blunder or that she is sending me a message.

I agree that feedback is in order in this situation. Although, I don't think that the draconian viewpoint should be taken. I am less concerned that she is actually looking for a job but rather in the less than elegant way that she is handling things. Had she come to me first, I might have been tempted to address her concerns or at least, help her get that job.

What do you talk about in your one on ones? Maybe it was just a big "oops" and that would be alright with some feedback. She may have a greivance with her previous supervisor but does she trust in you? That above all would concern me the most. What did I do to cause her not to trust me with this?

jael's picture

[quote="AManagerTool"]I would think that any direct report of mine who has the stones to list me as a reference while actively employed by me without telling me is a bit of a liability. At the very least, it demonstrates to me that either she made a huge blunder or that she is sending me a message.[/quote]

It's possible that they didn't actually list Terri as one of their references. Many companies require the name and phone number of the applicant's current manager on the applicaiton along with a check box to indicate whether or not this person can be contacted. It may not be her blunder that caused Terri to get a premature call.

WillDuke's picture

If you have any interest in the direct at all I'd suggest bringing it up in the O3. Until you do it's the elephant in the room. She knows she listed you. You know you got called.

I liked Tom's comment about feedback. Though I'd probably use it later in the discussion. It non-judgmental. You aren't saying they're wrong for listing you. You're not saying you won't do it. You're basically saying it's smart, not to mention polite, to ask.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="US41"]For me, the bottom line is that I don't trust other managers to give references that are accurate, because I have rarely found any gossip about anyone I have hired to be very accurate. [/quote]

Any time I've been asked to give a reference the letter requesting the reference has always had very specific questions, usually along the lines of "How much sickness has this person had in the last 2 years?", "Has this person been disciplined in the past 10 years?" and/or "How many times has this person been late to or absent from work, without leave or an acceptable explanation, in the past 2 years?" From what I gather, that's normal in the UK.

The mandate we have from HR is that we can confirm that the person works/worked for us, their job title(s) and their start (and leaving, if appropriate) date but nothing else. Any reference requests sent or refered to HR will get a form letter with that information. Friends at other companies tell me that such mandates are fairly common in large companies. The cause probably is fear of being sued, plus the interpretation Data Protection Act regulations has tightened a lot in the past few years so revealing an employee's disciplinary, sickness and even punctuality history would probably be considered a breach and lay the employer open to expensive litigation. Some "No Win, No Fee" lawyers have begun to realise that there's money to be made in more than just personal injury cases.

Stephen

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="jael"]It's possible that they didn't actually list Terri as one of their references. Many companies require the name and phone number of the applicant's current manager on the applicaiton along with a check box to indicate whether or not this person can be contacted. It may not be her blunder that caused Terri to get a premature call.[/quote]

That's happened to me before, on both sides. In one the person hadn't listed me as a reference but had put me down as their line manager (the role I was fulfilling at the time). I was very suprised to get the request. Fortunately the person in question was on a fixed term 'apprenticeship' contract that wasn't being transitioned to a permanent post so I knew he was looking for work. I spoke to him about it, saying I was happy to provide a reference but would have preferred to have been asked first, and he showed me a copy of the application form in which he had put two other people as references (a project manager he had been working more closely with than he did with me and his manager from his previous company). Once, as a job seeker, I discovered that one company I had interviewed with (a small building society) had contacted not only my references but also, without telling me, every previous employer and educational establishment I had listed as having ever been at! I've applied for jobs with the security services with less of a background check (although, to be fair, they probably already had the information).

Stephen

pmoriarty's picture

ra725 - What about former employees?