How to handle reference calls

Q: I received a telephone call from a local company. They are asking for a reference on one of my former co-workers. I sat a few desks away from this person but I don’t know anything about their performance. I am not sure I am the best reference for this person.

A: You are wise to feel uncomfortable. Often an employee cannot provide accurate information about a coworker because they don’t have firsthand knowledge about the person’s ability to perform the tasks required of their job.

Most employers would prefer that coworkers share reference questions with Human Resources. Human Resources may have information that you do not. For example, if the employee had received a written warning. If you do not have a HR function, it is a bit more difficult. If you do not have an HR function, it is best to share the question with your current manager. Your manager can decide how to best handle the question. Sometimes a manager will contact the reference and sometimes the manager will ignore the question altogether. Companies are reluctant to provide references because of potential legal concerns.

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Before giving a co-worker’s name and contact information (or anyone’s for that matter) is to check with the person in advance. Make sure that the person feels comfortable providing a reference and can speak to specific questions, accomplishments and possible development needs. A better idea is to prepare a reference before a call is made. If a candidate can prefer a reference, the reference can provide a more tailored response to the caller’s inquiry.

by Pattie Hunt Sinacole
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