Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Here's A Great Idea: Candidates Getting A Reference On An Employer

I heard a wonderful story recently.  A CEO from a small agency was hiring a department head and potential partner.  He had, of course, obtained references on this candidate. When the job was offered to the person, the candidate did a reverse before accepting – he asked the CEO for five references.  He wanted to check out what he was really like to work with and for.

At first this CEO was taken aback.  Then he thought about it and said, “Why not?”  In fact, he came to love the idea.

So do I.  After all, as they say, "turnabout is fair play."

In all my years of recruiting, I had never thought of this or heard of it.  But the more I think about it, the more I like it.  Why shouldn’t an employee ask for references from a future employer? After all, as an employee, it is your life.

Now, I know that most people check out the company they are going to work for by asking friends and friends of friends. But do they really check out the person they will be working for?  An employee has every right to know what working for or with someone is like before starting work.

Finding out what the people and company are about should be a matter of course.  Potentially, you need to know whether they are fair, whether they are fun to be with, whether they will stand behind you, whether they will mentor you.  And most of all, you need to know if you will like them. 

I wouldn’t expect junior people to ask for references, but I love the idea of senior executives doing it.  And why not?  Not only does it communicate strength, it also communicates self-confidence.  I am sure that some hiring managers might be surprised and even offended if a candidate asks them for references, but they should react exactly as the CEO I mentioned above did.  (And if they react negatively, do you really want to work for them?)

What a great idea.


  1. Hi, Paul. I love this idea, but unfortunately with the job market being what it is, it takes balls of brass to pull the reference maneuver off. Very few people are in the position of turning a job down, no matter how dubious that job's "qualifications" are.

    1. @Geo: I fully understand. However, if you wait until the offer is made and the offer letter received, there is no harm in trying. Cannot be done with HR, but with the person you are reporting to. Offers are rarely withdrawn. It depends on the relationship you establish with the hiring manager during the interview process.

  2. That's so clever. The fact alone that the candidate asked the question, and the CEO liked the answer tells me they're a great fit.

    In a large company, I'd imagine a lot of people have gathered "references" on the sr management on the way up through the interview process. ("So, what is the President like to work for?") In a small company if you don't have "balls of brass" (ha, geo) there's always linkedin and plain old asking around, right?


  3. I wish I had done this with a least 2 of the jobs I had in advertising. I think that life would have been different. Maybe not better, but different! Great idea, Paul.

  4. I love the story, Paul. And for the candidate who may not want to be that forward, the message is that we can all do our homework. It's a small industry and at the senior levels, our reputations precede us.


    1. Very true David. In this age of LinkedIn and Google, it's not hard to research someone on your own. I recently had the opportunity to speak with someone who'd worked for a person I was interviewing with. Their response, "Run!", certainly helped me make an informed decision.

    2. Fully agree with you both. However, there are occasions where someone gets a poor reference that is undeserved. Maybe the person giving the reference got fired by the person they were asked about. It is always good to get multiple references and to determine from each of them what their work relationship was so that it can be put in perspective.

  5. Lovely story. And, actually, a smart move. It shows not merely an usual degree of confidence but also, a working knowledge of the real world. A lot of CEOs, and other C-Suite occupants, succeed until they fail, and many have failed they way into their present situation.

    I hope I don't sound too cynical, but I've worked with enough CEO and other business heroes to know, too many have feet of clay and minds that settled, years before they took the mantle of the company they currently run.


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