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Friday, November 28, 2008

can I make the company give me THEIR references?

Yep, a Black Friday extravaganza: three posts in one day.

A reader writes:

After the second interview, when an interview requests my references, is it ever possible to turn around and also ask the interviewer for references from the prospective company? I would only do this if (1) I am really sure that I want the position, but I've heard things about the company about turnover/chronic underperformers/bad juju and (2) if I felt comfortable enough with the interviewer to do so.

Would this move be perceived as obnoxious?

I'm envisioning it as a bit of a 360 degree interview, because if I am going to leave my current job for one that seems more stellar, I feel that I have the right to also investigate what I'm leaving for -- the real picture, not the one that's given in interviews. Your opinion?

(For the record, I haven't yet done this, but came close many times. I also wish in some jobs that I had insisted.)

Yes, you can do this, and it does happen occasionally, so the company shouldn't think it's crazy. (Although frankly, even if you were the first person in the history of the world to ask it, they still shouldn't think it's crazy because it's a smart thing to do, but many, many people -- less intelligent ones -- think things they haven't encountered before are crazy.)

However, because it's not a common request, be careful about the way you ask for it.

Give context and frame it in a positive light, not a precautionary measure that you're taking after being burned previously. For instance, explain that you are looking for a position where the fit is really right because you want to stay for a long time, and ask if you can talk to others who work in the department, or even the previous people who held the job.

This is a reasonable request, and if the company is resistant to it, that's a huge red flag -- either because they're hiding something or because they have a culture problem that makes them think reference-checking should be a one-way street, which is possibly indicative of an environment where employees' opinions and quality of life aren't valued. (Although if you're asking to talk to previous people who held the job, it's reasonable for them not to offer up anyone who was fired, disgruntled, or generally not very good at the job.)

However, do wait to ask this until an offer has been made. Your request will take up time from people whose schedules aren't slated to include this sort of thing, and so it's reasonable for the company to want to wait on that until they know they're interested in hiring you.


Just another HR lady... said...

What we have done in the past is have some of the team members that the potential employee would be working with, sit down with them with no manager present. That usually allows the candidate to ask whatever they would like and get the employee's perspective. I've never had anyone ask me for a written reference from the company before though, I think I would probably just offer to have someone come in and chat with them instead.

Lady Geraldine said...

When I interviewed with my current company, it was a 4 hour process. I came in, interviewed with 7 different people I would be working with separately (including the CEO, who likes to have a hand in all new hires), and was able to have lunch there. It was a really great way for me to get all sorts of perspectives on the company from people I now work with every day.

There was no guess-work on my part about whether I would fit into the company culture after my interview. It was the longest process I'd gone through in one day, but I got an offer three days later. I'm now of the opinion that ALL companies should have a similar interview process. One of my interviewers had been with the company 5 years (we're a 7-year old company) and another had been there only 6 months, so I really got a varied perspective.

Original Post Author said...

Thank you for all your comments. I think these are excellent suggestions. I agree - it's important to have different perspectives at the interviewing panel where possible, but in lieu of that, I would def request the company reference if I qualified to the offer stage.

Wally Bock said...

I think you've got a reasonable request and I think you've gotten good advice, but I think you should be doing a little intelligence gathering ahead of time. Depending on the organization, you should have a pretty good mix of contacts and secondary sources to gather information about how things really are.