On references, reference checks, and credibility merry-go-rounds

In my last post, I discussed the importance of professional credibility and how it is fundamental to professional success. Access to opportunities for profession growth, promotion, and connections in the market hinges largely how your others perceive your personality, professionalism, collegiality, and professional competence. As a professional, you will, at one point or the other in your career, need to leverage your professional credibility to get ahead. One of such times is when you need others who to vouch for your credibility when applying for a new position or business, a promotion, a professional or academic award, or when making business deals, or networking with others. 

Formal or informal reference checks are central to networking, performance appraisal, and hiring practices across most organizations. References (or referees) are individuals who can provide positive endorsement of your qualifications and attest to your integrity, work ethic, and competence . They provide insights that may validate information already provided by a potential candidate for a role during an interview or provide additional insights about the candidate that might have been missed during interviews. Such information might include proof of service, length of employment, achievements, and qualifications, work ethic, or character. 

Depending on the position applied for or the organizational requirements, there are different types of references. Professional references are those required for employment purposes and often provide insight into the applicant’s competence, fit for the role, collegiality, and integrity. Professional references can be provided by supervisor, colleagues, professor, and others who are well acquainted with your professional accomplishments in a work setting. Academic references often detail an applicant’s educational background and academic accomplishments. These are particular use when applying for admissions universities and colleges, or when applying for academic awards and scholarships. Academic references should be provided by teachers, professors, or advisors. On the other hand, character references detail an’ applicant’s personal, character attributes, and suitability for the role being sought. Character references can be provided by a family member, friend, mentor, or a neighbour.  They are particularly often useful when volunteering in a charity or community organization. Also, it’s imperative to know that, depending on the role, some organizations may request a mix of these types of references. For example, some organizations may request for a combination of the three types of references to gain a 360-degree insight about the candidate.

A point worth noting is that the selection of referees who can provide positive and appropriate endorsement play a crucial role in getting ahead in the workplace. Often, I have seen high qualified professionals list the wrong type of referees, thereby disqualifying themselves from the outset. Soliciting references from individuals who are not familiar with your work or folks who are not willing to give your positive endorsement as reference can dent your chances of career success. Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the selection of individuals who may serve as your referee.

Another fascinating fact about reference checks is that there is an expected standard for those who serve as referees as well. They are expected to be credible individuals with first-hand experience of the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses who can provide honest, unbiased, and candid judgement about the applicant’s credibility and fit for the role! So, even referees need to leverage their professional credibility when putting their names and signatures out there to support an applicant. Like a merry go-round, the professional marketplace runs on and trades with credibility as its currency. With good credibility, the opportunities for career growth are endless. Without it, your ability to achieve meaningful success and/or lasting impact is severely inhibited.