Article Date: 5/1/2012

In Reference to References
lessons learned

In Reference to References

How did the average Joe (or Freddy) become a “superior” job candidate?

Jack Runninger, O.D.


I can empathize with the young man who was hired to work on a farm. On his first day he worked so fast he completed the day's chores by early afternoon.

“I've never had such a good worker,” the farmer told him. “I'll give you an easy job the rest of the day in appreciation for your hard work. All you have to do is sort these potatoes. Put the good ones in one pile, and the bad ones in another.”

Two hours later he went back to check on the hired hand's progress and found in all that time, he had placed only three potatoes in one pile, and two in the other.

“Why are you so slow on this easy job, and yet worked so fast on the other hard chores?”

“It ain't the work,” replied the hired hand. “It's havin' to make all those durned decisions!”

Me, too

That's the reason I dislike being a job reference for friends and former employees. I'm flattered to be asked, but I have extreme difficulty making decisions about how to flatter the applicant in filling out reference forms, without appearing to exaggerate. However after deep study, I have come up with the following system to accomplish this task most efficiently.

Let us assume Freddy Throckmorton has applied for a job and given your name as a reference. Let us further assume that you are anxious to help Freddy get the job, for one of the following reasons:

a. Freddy is a good friend and he needs the job.
b. Freddy owes you money, and the only hope you have for being repaid is for the aforementioned Freddy to find a job.
c. Freddy is a pest, and if he gets the job he will be sent to California, and you'll no longer have to put up with him.
d. Freddy is your no good brother-in-law who is living with, and sponging off, you. If he gets the job, he'll be able to afford lodgings and you can kick him out.

Good or bad?

The referral form asks you to evaluate Freddy on a number of qualities on a scale from 7 (“superior”) down through 1 (“poor”).

You are tempted to circle 7 for each category, even though an honest appraisal would be straining a point to categorize Freddy as even mediocre in such areas as intelligence, integrity, etc. You must resist this temptation.

“But” you say, “there will be other applicants whose references will lie about them, so I must also lie about Freddy.”

This is where you must outthink the opposition. If a personnel manager is returned a form with nothing but superior ratings, he has to say to himself, “This guy is lying. At the job interview, it was apparent that Freddy ain't all that great.”

Instead, rate him superior in most aspects, but throw in two goods and perhaps one or two above averages. This shows your sincerity and that you have put a good deal of thought into your ratings. This is much more effective than an exaggerated all superior rating.

It works both ways

What's important to remember is that when you're the one hiring a new employee that the references you receive are probably just as unreliable. Worse, most companies no longer provide referrals, but only verify employment history. So, how can you get a more honest evaluation about a job candidate?

Tune in next month for the next episode. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: May 2012, page(s): 21