John Lenihan, Consultant, MSA Executive Search
One of the most helpful parts of our candidate vetting process is the conversations we have with professional references. While opinions on the validity and objectivity of professional references can vary, they are an integral and non-negotiable part of our vetting process that carry significant weight as hiring executives consider candidates. As search consultants, we spend several hours interviewing each candidate so we can render an objective, professional opinion on qualifications and the all important “fit." Speaking to references, however, provides a unique glimpse into what it’s like to work with the candidate day in and day out.
Simply put, references matter. Some candidates come to our very first conversation with several references ready to share with us. Others are much more cautious and guarded about providing references; usually with confidentiality being the key concern. Of course, when dealing with a currently employed candidate, we understand the confidentiality piece and always emphasize discretion when speaking with references. Oftentimes, candidates will ask me for guidance on who they should provide as references. The categories of references I like to see are:
- Current/former supervisor: rarely are we able to speak with a current supervisor, as that would indicate
the person has disclosed to their boss that they are looking at a new role. The more likely scenario is one in which we are able to speak to a recent, yet former supervisor. This is arguably the most valuable reference as it gives the hiring executive a firsthand account of what it would be like to have the candidate reporting to them.
- Current/former direct report: somewhat similar to the above example, most candidates aren’t comfortable providing a current subordinate or member of their staff to serve as a reference for the same reasons they wouldn’t want to provide a current supervisor. But if the position in question is a leadership position, chances are the organization looking to hire you will want to get a sense of what kind of leader you are and what people who have worked for you would say about your management style.
- Peer: Anyone who reports to the same executive, sat at the same “table” as you, or served on the same team or committee in a peer-like position should be able to speak to your ability to work in a team-oriented and collaborative fashion.
- Internal customer: As our firm operates in the healthcare space, an example of an internal customer would be a physician leader who can share his or her perspective on the candidate’s ability to build relationships with medical staff, or a nursing leader in a similar manner.
- Other: depending on the position, other examples could include board members, vendors, clients, community and/or political leaders, and colleagues from professional associations.