How to be a good referee

How to be a good referee
Published: 2 December 2019

As recruiters, a critical part of our process is taking verbal references on candidates. These conversations offer insight into what that individual is like to work with, manage, or be managed by, and can also help to identify any potential development areas. However, we can on occasion encounter some nervousness and uncertainty from referees who had been unsure what to expect from our phone call.

As a result, I have put together some tips and thoughts on how to be a good referee.

Reflect on what their new employer will want to know

Prior to our call, it is worth giving some thought to the questions that you are likely to be asked. This will vary from role to role, but we will generally seek to learn your opinion of key elements of the candidate’s experience. For particularly high-level strategic roles such as CEOs or Managing Directors, we will want to learn your opinion of their strategic capabilities and their general leadership skills. Reflect on why you feel that they are suitable for this role, and whether they have any transferrable skills that it would be pertinent to highlight.

What might their new employer not have learned during interview process?

Whilst our interviews are in-depth, they can’t show us the whole picture. Referees provide us with vital insight into the candidate’s behaviours on a day-to-day basis and tell us how the candidate is viewed by their colleagues and clients.

Answer questions with examples where possible

Examples will help to illustrate why the candidate is the best person for the role. Have they achieved anything that particularly impressed you? Have they successfully managed any particularly difficult projects, or ‘acted up’ into a more senior role in the past? How well do you feel that they performed in that capacity?

Which areas could the candidate improve on?

It is natural to want to paint the candidate in the best possible light; however, this question will inevitably be asked during any reference call. We are not looking to discredit the candidate – rather, we are keen to learn how their new employer might support them as they transition into their new role. This can often be the most informative and useful section of the reference, as it can shine a light on potential development areas. It is important to stress that our conversation is completely confidential, so there is no need to worry about any negative comments finding their way back to the candidate.

We are, of course, hugely grateful to referees for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak to us. Taking just a little more time to reflect on the above can enable a referee to truly give the best account of their friend or colleague, as well as helping to provide their future employer with a well-rounded view of their skills and experience.

For more information, please contact Clare Bromley, a Senior Researcher within the Education Practice at Berwick Partners.

Categories: Education Recruitment

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