• Estimated read time: 6 mins
  • Date posted:11/11/2019
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How times have changed. Just a few years back, well-honed job search touchpoints (CV, LinkedIn Profile, pain letter) were enough to secure you an interview and differentiate yours from the competition. You’d prepare diligently for an interview, reel off rehearsed responses to common interview questions and wait for a job offer. References were an afterthought.

Fast forward to the present and you need to be paying constant attention to and nurturing your personal brand. Hiring managers are armed with tougher interview questions and your referees can make or break your chances of receiving a job offer.

You see, for life science executives, references pack just as much punch as job search touchpoints and interview skills. Without robust references, you are unlikely to secure a job offer.

While your job search touchpoints are an excellent overview of your achievements that help the hiring manager to determine whether you would be a good fit for the role, they will contact your referees to confirm their validity. Your previous colleagues and managers will be able to provide detailed information and corroboration of your strengths so you must select the best references that you possibly can.

Why are references important?

These statistics demonstrate just how much hiring managers rely on references to decide whether to hire you or not.

Here are a few points to keep in mind about references and their importance:

  1. References provide a second opinion: Your referees can verify what you state in your job search touchpoints and interview. Hiring managers know most applicants rehearse answers to common interview questions, but referees are unlikely to provide such scripted responses, providing an unbiased window into your performance and achievements in previous positions.
  2. References are the cherry on top: Interviews are high-stake, time-pressed scenarios. It’s not uncommon to forgo detail in the quest for a succinct response. This is where your referees come in. They may recall relevant, important information regarding your skills and achievements that you forgot to mention, which could give you the edge over a candidate with similar skills and experience.
  3. References can make or break a job offer: Choose your referees wisely; their current position should be highly regarded and they should have worked directly with you in previous roles. If your referee mentions poor behaviour or lack of skill that doesn’t align with what you have stated, they could jeopardise your chances of receiving a job offer. 47% of hiring managers have a less favourable opinion of a candidate having spoken to their references, which demonstrates the significance of having robust, compelling references.

Common questions hiring managers ask referees:

You may feel as though this is the one aspect of your job search that is outside of your control, but you can prepare your referees so that they’ll know what to say if they get contacted by a hiring manager. Whether written or verbal, these are the kinds of questions that they could be asked, either pre or post-interview:

  1. Did [NAME] report directly to you and if so, for how long?
  2. To the best of your knowledge, did [NAME] resign or was he/she asked to leave?
  3. What was the biggest mistake [NAME] made during their employment at [ORGANISATION]?
  4. Is there anything you and [NAME] did not agree on?
  5. Can you give an example of where [NAME] went above and beyond to achieve results?
  6. [NAME] mentioned [ACTIVITY] was one of their greatest achievements. How big a part did they play?
  7. If [NAME] is successful, what tips would you give to help me manage their performance?
  8. Why wasn’t [NAME] further promoted?
  9. Would you hire [NAME] again?

For an inside look at referencing from a hiring managers’ perspective, check out our blog: Tough Reference Checks Techniques For Life Science Executives.

RELATED: Looking for Senior Management and Executive opportunities in the life sciences?
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5 steps to prepare your network for tough reference checks:

Now the most difficult task lies before you – who should you choose to be your referee and how should you prepare them ahead of referencing? Here are five simple steps to help you create a list of strong, prefered referees to secure the job that you’ve been dreaming of.

1. Create a referee shortlist:

Create a list of people who would be willing to provide a reference for you. Your list should comprise former managers and successful peers that are in a position of stature. While it can be tempting to list friends from work, it’s best to keep things professional; think back to previous managers and colleagues who you got along with who can provide examples of times where you went above and beyond in your career. Your reference list should consist of five or more names. The hiring manager will talk to as many referees as possible to establish an accurate overview of your sense of character and achievements. The more people that you provide, the greater your control throughout the reference process. However, avoid listing your current manager and colleagues; if the hiring manager insists on speaking to them, you should request they delay until you receive a conditional job offer. If you’re struggling to identify potential referees, ask the hiring manager whom or what type of referee they would be interested in talking to, and then provide the two most qualified referees from your list. Make sure to mention that there are other references available upon request.

2. Qualify your references:

Before you list your referees, you need to ask their permission. Decide on the most appropriate way to contact them; if you haven’t spoken in a while, enquire by email first and follow up by telephone. Alternatively, if they are a close contact, start with a phone call. Their tone of voice and how they respond to your request will help you determine whether they could be a reliable referee. As a bonus, networking with past colleagues will enable you to find out about other executive job opportunities. In your initial message, ask what type of reference they will be able to provide; some organisations will only permit basic references consisting of the date of employment and job title. If this is the case, then place this reference towards the bottom of your reference list or use them as a backup.

3. Brief your references:

Now that you have secured a list of your most favourable references, don’t forget to brief them on what they should expect. Provide them with information concerning who will contact them and when so that they can prepare themselves. The nine questions listed above will give them a solid outline and a better idea of what to expect.

Try to ascertain whether any of the questions could raise red flags; rather than your referee lying, reassure them that that they should only answer what they can to avoid irregularities. If they seem unreliable or cannot provide as much supporting evidence as anticipated, remove them from your list. Finally, request that your referees inform you whenever they’ve been contacted, detailing who it was that contacted them, what date and the questions asked.

4. Show your appreciation:

Reference calls can take up a considerable amount of time for your referee so remember to express your thanks and appreciation every time they vouch for you.. Deliver your message of gratitude by email and follow up with a phone call once you receive a job offer. Optionally, you could send them a hand-written thank you note, especially if the hiring manager mentions that your references were impressive.

5. Set yourself up for success:

Manners go a long way; remember to keep in touch with those who validated you. After securing the job, update them on your first ninety days in the role, citing any career milestones and any other accomplishments. This will give them a sense of satisfaction knowing that they helped you receive the job offer. Leave your current organisation with grace so that you can obtain further names to add to your reference list. However unhappy you might have been in the job, burning bridges won’t do you any good.

Although you might believe that the reference process is out of your control, you might possess more influence than you think. However, the safest way to ensure that your references check out is to resist overinflating your achievements and experiences in your job search touchpoints or during interviews. Be the best and most honest version of yourself and your references will verify that.


For more job-search advice tailored to senior managers and executives in the life sciences…

* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.