Some may call them ‘references not provided by the candidate’ while I tend to call them what they really are – hidden nightmares. They show up out of nowhere, and – BAM! – before you know it, these references have spooked the daylights out of the audience you’ve been trying so hard to impress. There aren’t more than two degrees of separation in the HCIT market. Somebody knows somebody who knows you, and, more importantly, knows a lot about you!
The best way to fend off the unexpected ‘back door reference’ is to make sure you have a reference for every role you’ve ever had – someone who can vouch for your character, personality and performance. People are only human, and some can hold grudges for many, many moons. If one of these hidden references has an ax to grind about something in the distant past, they might not have any problem throwing you under the bus if they get the chance. This is why you should always stay connected with past coworkers. LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected – you should periodically reach out and ping an old colleague to see how they are doing, and not just when you need to use them as a reference.
Another way to avoid hidden reference nightmares is to avoid name dropping to impress your audience. In Bradley Smart’s book TOPGRADING, he teaches a hiring technique that is used by organizations that prefer to do a deep dive on a candidate’s background. Part of the TOPGRADING process is to conduct interviews known as a CIDS interview. The CIDS acronym translates to Chronological In-Depth Situational interview. In this type of interview, the candidate is tag-teamed by two members of the interview team – one who asks the questions while the other one takes copious notes. The candidate is asked in-depth questions about each role and the names/titles of the co-workers and supervisors, while the scribe captures it all in writing. Later in the hiring process they attempt to contact each person mentioned – without your knowledge. That could be good for you – or bad – depending on how well you’ve stayed in touch with your former colleagues.
Dealing with hidden references is manageable as long as you stay connected with former coworkers and can defend any negative information that gets passed down from another former employee, peer or boss. With the use of social media there is no way to hide any skeletons in your closet – dealing with them is a challenge which can be overcome by having a great defensive strategy to protect the integrity of your own personal brand.