I just talked to one of my references who has now talked to two different recruiters for me. I asked him if he was asked any “stumper” questions and he said that both recruiters asked the same question that he didn’t have a good answer for: “Name a time that XXXX saved money for a client”.
This would appear to be a standard question when asking about someone who’s been a consultant and it never occurred to me to make sure my references had an answer to it.
The recruiters may have been trained by Jeff Skretney or another superstar in the staffing industry who trains NATIONWIDE – and this is one of his typical questions he trains recruiters to ask during a reference check.
To answer question, YES. Do coach your references. Provide each of your references with a copy of your resume, so they have a fresh reminder of your background. Give them three options to answer when asked the “money saving” question – be sure they know about the savings personally. For example, “Yes, I remember when Jason saved the client (or company) around $150,000 in shipping costs by using ground instead of air – per year! Our client was ecstatic and increased their orders with us by 10 percent.” or whatever is relevant to the job. By the way, achievements like these should be on the resume.
I also think it’s a great idea to coach your references. You’ll likely call them anyway, to ask them if they will be a reference for you, right? In that call you might consider two talking points:
- Coach them on your brand. They may have known you as Mary in Accounting, but you want to go into another related field. Let them know this, and emphasize the aspects of your brand that will help with a reference check. Isn’t this also referred to as “transferable skills?”
- Coach them on specific questions that may be asked. The question above is one example… I did a google search and came up with some other ideas:
Susan Heathfield, Human Resources expert at About.com, wrote Job Search Tip: Prep Your References for a Reference Check, which as some excellent ideas. Among some obvious questions that I would think of, here are some she suggests (you can get this from her “Reference Checking Format” worksheet for those who check references):
- How many reporting staff did the candidate manage? Their roles?
- Tell me about the candidate’s most important contributions to the achievement of your organization’s mission and goals.
- Describe the candidate’s productivity, commitment to quality and customer orientation.
- What was (candidate’s) reason for leaving your company?
- Can you tell me (candidate’s) salary at the time of leaving?
- How would you describe (candidate’s) punctuality?
- Could you rate (candidate’s) reliability?
- How would you describe (candidate’s) honesty and integrity?
eHow has a brief article titled How to Ask a Job Reference Questions, Best Job Today has a few more questions to consider in their article Interviewee Reference Questions, and Ellen Heffernan of SJG-The Spelman and Johnson Group has an awesome article, Your References: An Important Part of the Job Search Process.
My biggest question is, with all of these potential questions, how in the world do you coach your reference? Do you prepare a cheatsheet for them, with questions and answers (not a bad idea), so they can refer back to talking points?