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Turning the Tables on Reference Checks

"All the stars might be aligning for you (promising company with great growth, dream job description, attractive compensation and benefits), but one person (your manager) could affect your career more than everything else combined.” ~ from Reference Check Your Future Boss (Harvard Business Review)

Lots of us obsess on reference checks being done on us during the interview process, and there are tons of articles discussing the validity and usefulness of these inquiries. Yet few talk about the role of the interviewee in scoping out the potential for a good fit with the boss from the candidate’s point of view! So many unfortunately go into the process aiming to please, accepting positions often tinged by the flattering “they want me!” feeling, rather than fully assessing one’s own perceptions of the manager and the team (beyond the job). Remembering that the interview process is a two way street and that includes vetting the manager and their team.

Sure, there are sites like Glassdoor, which allows employees and candidates to review companies, but beyond its extreme highs and lows, there are no real assessments of specific managers – and definitely not by name. No one would dare, right? Yet as most of us are keenly aware, people often leave jobs because of their managers. So the more we can learn about the people we’d potentially be working with, the more we have the opportunity to own our fair share of the hiring process, and contributing positively to assessing whether this is truly a strong fit.

Here are a few key ways to assess the hiring manager and team you are considering joining:

  1. Research the Team’s Longevity and History – How long have each of the hiring manager’s team members been there? What is their relationship like? Do people follow this manager from one company to the next, or does (s)he have a difficult time recruiting?  Find this out during the interview process – what brought each of them to the company and how each of them would describe the manager. Of course you might not get the absolute truth, but you’ll see by how much gushing (or how “careful” they are with their words) if the person is happy working for this manager, along with getting a better idea of the manager’s style.

  2. Understand Why the Job is Open – Was the last person promoted? Did they transfer to a different department? Or did they leave the company – and with that, was it voluntary or involuntary? What’s the history of people in this position? While they may use confidentiality as a reason to not share specifics about a termination, a good hiring manager will tell you about what (s)he learned from the experience to create a stronger team the next time around.

  3. ASK For References! Asking for your prospective boss for names to check references on him/her can seem daunting. But a good boss will have no problem being transparent. If they react negatively, Mike Derezin of LinkedIn tells us, “yes, you may have lost some points or perhaps even the offer, but…I would welcome this interaction as it shed important light on this manager, specifically whether (s)he embraces a level playing field between employee and employer and whether (s)he supports transparency.”

  4. Pay Attention To Their Behavior During The Interview. From pronoun usage to distractions to inappropriate questions to ambiguity, potential managers will show you a lot about who they are if you pay attention to these cues. “Regardless of his or her role in the company, the interviewer should be striving to make a good impression.” (from Forbes’ 5 Ways To Spot A Bad Boss In An Interview).

Along with these tactics, what is also vital is that you understand where you thrive. Not where you THINK you should thrive, but what really works for your unique personality and work style. Too many of us try to be everything to everyone when we are applying for a job, because that’s what we think hiring teams want to hear. Good hiring teams want honesty, articulation, and a strategy for how you’ll do the work and learn what you need to learn. You don’t have to be perfect. Authenticity and self-awareness, with the genuine commitment to ensuring you are a good fit for them as much as they are a good fit for you? That’s the key.

“Your job hunt should never be thought of as anything but a two-way decision. You will be investing your time, skills, and passion into a company and spending untold hours and energy working with a future boss. Make sure you’re making a good investment by asking the right questions and doing the right research.” ~ from The Crucial Step That Will Make Sure Your Next Boss is a Good One


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