What hiring managers look for when checking references

March 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm Leave a comment

A crucial piece of the hiring process — typically one of the last steps before an offer is made — is the chapter known as reference checks. Most job hunters recognize the importance of this step and try to seek references who in their comments will highlight the job seeker’s strengths and abilities, while downplaying their weaknesses. Many (though not all) job seekers are careful about preparing their references before they receive an inquiry from a hiring manager (see Oct.  28 post, “Getting the most out of your references.”)

Yet hiring managers have different styles of questioning references. Hiring managers who are journalists may ask some tough (and unexpected) questions in the process. Others may contact only a reference or two (sometimes one they know) and ignore others, which can hurt a job candidate who has selected a range of references to showcase different parts of their career. Others may move on to the next candidate if they can’t easily reach a job seeker’s references. So given this, here are some things for job hunters to keep in mind about reference checks, and some good practices for those who may be asked to handle these checks:

*Hiring managers who are experienced at reference checks and take this seriously will ask a reference a series of questions trying to a) fact-check what the candidate has told them and b) gather supporting information and c) look for any red flags about a candidate. This is another important reason why candidates should stick to the facts about their experience and accomplishments and try to prepare their references with their career highlights. An experienced reference checker isn’t trying to trip up a candidate through their references, but wants to know if their weak areas — and everyone has some — match what the prospective employer considers them to be. A good question here is: “Where are their weaknesses?” (not do they have any?) And especially to former supervisors, “Where did you have to spend the most time working with this employee? Where was coaching important? And how did she respond to coaching?”

*Some hiring managers figure they will go to just one or two references, which may not provide them with the full picture of a job hunter’s skills. I personally think hiring managers do this at their own peril (why ask for several references if you’re not going to call them all?) and it’s a sloppy practice, but as I’ve noted before, many people doing hiring in news and other organizations today aren’t full-time recruiters and are sandwiching this in between other duties. They’re in a hurry and if they find what they like (or perhaps don’t) from one or two sources, they feel like they are finished. This is a good reason for job candidates to prepare ALL of their references carefully, and to list them in order of importance, with full (and current) information including all email addresses, a work phone number and a mobile phone number where they can be easily reached. Be especially careful with academic references — if they may be on a sabbatical or a school break when the company tries to contact them, make sure you have listed other contact information than their academic office.

*A skilled hiring manager — like a good reporter — will carefully listen to a reference’s (often well-prepared) remarks and develop good follow-up questions to gain more information. If someone says that a candidate is a good line editor and well-organized, a good questioner might jump in with: “But what kind of rapport did they develop with their team? Were they a good manager of people as well as of copy?” They will also try to determine if the candidate is truly interested in THIS job or just a job, whether they are likely to stay with the organization (partly based on their previous track record) and how well they get along with others. Job seekers should prepare their references for a range of questions and let them know what they think the interviewer will view as priority skills for this particular position.

*A question many hiring managers use to end reference checks is a simple: “If you had the opportunity to hire this person now, would you do so?” Though it seems like an obvious question, references are sometimes surprised by it, and I’ve had several who wouldn’t commit to a yes, or seemed quite wishy-washy about it. That gave me pause, as I presume it would most prospective employers. So job candidates should make sure that their references can enthusiastically answer that question in the affirmative (and if they can’t, find another reference to replace them) and recruiters should ask it. Another seemingly softball question that recruiters should use at the end of a check is the simple: “Is there anything else I should know about this candidate that would aid us in making the decision about who to hire for this position?” Again, references often add something useful here — and candidates should make sure their reference has thought about what to answer if asked.

*More good hiring news to pass along: Jacqui Salmon, a long-time reporter and editor for The Washington Post who took a buyout last year, on April 5 will be starting a new job as a senior officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts in D.C.  Jacqui, who has been doing freelance writing and editing work since leaving the Post, at Pew will be putting her skills to good use in assisting the CEO in writing op-ed pieces, speeches, communications to the board and annual report updates. Congratulations and much success to Jacqui (who has been a big supporter of this blog). This is more evidence that there is often another career chapter after a buyout!!

*With deadlines for summer internships at many D.C. organizations fast approaching, here are a few more openings:
 

*Atlantic Media Co. in D.C. has a six-month internship opening. The deadline is fast approaching — this Thursday, March 19.

*Intrax Internships, a professional development program, has openings in its program:

Intrax Internships Abroad is a professional development program in which qualified students do international internships in London, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, and Tokyo in functions such as advertising/PR, business development, entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, non-profit management, and operations/engineering. Students who are accepted into the program pay as they would for study abroad and receive a personalized internship match, training, housing, excursions, and have an on-site coordinator. Looking ahead to a challenging job market, international work experience can give participants an edge. Individual job placements are listed by location and by function. For more information call 800.777.7766 or visit www.intraxinternshipsabroad.com.

*And a variety of good job leads in public affairs, communications and journalism to start off this work week:

*Just Vision, a non-profit, has an opening in D.C. for a director of communications and outreach:

Director of Communications and Outreach
Just Vision – Washington, DC
communications. The Director of Communications and… criteria for communications and outreach programs and activities. • Establish communications and outreach…
From execSearches.com

*The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda (known as NIDDK, part of the NIH) is looking for a technical writer-editor:

Lead Technical Writer-Editor – NIDDK-CR-DE
Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH) – Bethesda, MD
in the Office of Communications and Public Liaison… Technical Writer-Editor include: overseeing the work of the Office of Communication and Public Liaison… $105,211 – $136,771 a year
From usajobs.gov

*Washington Hospital Center in D.C. is looking for a senior communications specialist:

Senior Employee Communications Specialist
Washington Hospital Center – Washington, DC
Senior Employee Communications Specialist is needed… in communications, journalism or related discipline, and seven or more years of progressive communications
From Washington Hospital Center

*The Ford Agency in D.C. has an opening for a director of communications:
Director of Communications – Small Office
Ford Agency – Washington, DC
Director of Communications to strengthen both the brand and this association’s communications with market… A Masters degree in Communications or a related field…
From washingtonpost.com

*The Center for Public Integrity in D.C. is looking for an experienced financial reporter to take part in investigative projects:

The Center for Public Integrity
Finance Reporter
Location: Washington, D.C.
The Center for Public Integrity is seeking a seasoned reporter for high-impact investigative projects to uncover questionable business practices, to detect early warning signs of new trouble in U.S. financial regulation and to examine lingering fallout from the financial crisis. The successful candidate will know his or her way around the Fed, Treasury Department and financial regulatory agencies, and have an impressive resume of successful investigative business projects that were both understandable and broke new ground.  Also crucial is a clear understanding of the financial markets, a reservoir of reliable sources, an aggressive attitude, and the ability to work with a team. Center projects require a smooth writer who can produce long-form investigative journalism, tell a good story, and mine government data for new trends. Competitive salary and a collegial atmosphere are offered by the Center, which has a 20-year track record probing government and institutional programs. Investigative reporting is alive and well at the Center, which in recent months won awards from Sigma Delta Chi, IRE, the Overseas Press Club, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
The Center is located in Washington, DC at Farragut Square with easy access to Metro.  We offer an excellent benefits package.  Send resume and salary requirements to financereporter@publicintegrity.org

The Center is committed to a diverse workplace.

*Repower America, an environmental group in D.C., has an opening for a new-media assistant:

Repower America is looking to for a sharp New Media Assistant to join a national campaign to enact bold clean energy and climate policies. You’ll be a key member of our New Media team, helping to launch innovative online campaigns, recruit new online activists, influence the public narrative and mobilize our membership. As the New Media Assistant, you’ll be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of our websites and social media properties, writing social media content, and helping build out, test and analyze our online initiatives.

Please email resumes with a cover email/letter to acpnewmediajobs@gmail.com. Please use the subject line “New Media Assistant application.”

Responsibilities
* Manage content on the websites and numerous social media properties
* Draft daily social media content including Facebook posts and tweets
* Compile and summarize results of weekly analytics for websites, email campaigns and social media properties
* Assist in resolving membership questions and moderating comments and other user-generated content on our web properties
* Load and test email messages and web pages
* Keep up-to-date on climate related news and advances in new media space

Required Qualifications
* Bachelor’s degree
* Excellent writing skills
* Proven abilities to manage multiple projects in an office environment
* Ability to synthesize large amounts of data into actionable information
* Excellent verbal communication skills
* Proven interest in new media trends and tools
* Basic knowledge of HTML

Desired Qualifications
* Previous experience with CMS and/or CRM tools desired ― a big plus if you have experience with WordPress and/or Blue State Digital
* Skills in Excel and Photoshop
* Prior experience in the climate movement and/or on political campaigns a big plus
* Prior experience with Google Analytics, CSS is a plus

Salary and benefits
* Excellent benefits, including medical, dental, 401K, etc
* Competitive salary

*And to wrap up today’s leads, the Urban Land Institute in D.C. is seeking an online editor:

Do you:

* Have a knack for finding the story, the surprise angle, and the human element
in every written piece you encounter?
* Instinctively look at a topic through the lenses of different audiences,
focusing on what’s relevant while screening out the rest?
* Carry a contagious spirit of “We can do this,” turning your colleagues into
storytelling co-conspirators?

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is launching an online magazine this spring to
complement its flagship print edition, Urban Land. We’re looking for a sharp,
seasoned online editor to plan, assign, write and edit articles, partnering with
the print magazine team. 

ULI is a global, member-based nonprofit with headquarters in Washington, DC. Our
members include real estate developers, city and county planners, experts in
transit, finance, sustainability, design – in short, all the disciplines needed
to build and sustain thriving communities. With your help, we’ll deliver content
that’s timely, compelling, and relevant for our members, using the web to its
best potential. Come join us!

SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITIES:

* Plans and executes the publication of ongoing content for Urban Land online.
* Oversees editorial and art production of Urban Land online, managing workflow
through editorial and art departments.
* Helps establish the editorial budget for the online magazine, and manages to
that budget.
* Works with all ULI staff and other stakeholders to ensure that the content of
the online magazine meets the business goals.
* Develops and manages editorial calendar, assigns articles to
writers/contributors, and oversees the processes for editing, reviews,
approvals, and publication of content. Ensures that content meets ULI editorial
guidelines.
* Oversees design of articles and sections for online magazine, working within
templates and framework of ULI Art Director. Guides placement of artwork,
sidebars, boxes, quotes, etc. so design by art department team reflects
editorial intent/content.

* Partners with ULI’s Membership and Marketing teams to gather and interpret
visitor satisfaction via readership surveys, renewal feedback, etc. Also to
coordinate timing and messaging with ULI’s primary web site, ULI.org
* Partners with web support staff who specialize in content publishing via
Content Management System
* Negotiates rates with freelance writers and other content contributors

INTERNAL RELATIONSHIPS:

* Centers of Policy & Practice
* ULI Fellows
* Advertising Department
* Production Dept.
* Membership and Marketing Depts.
* ULI Product and District Councils
* ULI regional offices

EXTERNAL RELATIONSHIPS:

* Freelance Writers, photographers
* News- and data-feed providers, to manage content partnerships when applicable

REQUIREMENTS:
Experience:
* B.A. in Journalism, English, or Communications.
* Minimum of 7 years experience in the web-based publishing field, including 3
years planning, assigning and/or editing content contributed by others.

Skills needed:
* Strong writing and editing for web, and a deep understanding of how people
interact with materials online – headlines, blurbs, links, etc.
* A knack for blending audio, visuals and text, and for using the web
effectively to tell stories and engage audiences.
* Solid task management (tracking and follow-up of assigned tasks) and attention
to detail
* Ability to meet deadlines and handle multiple projects simultaneously
* Ability to listen, collaborate and negotiate effectively with many
stakeholders
* Working knowledge of content management systems and HTML
* Confidence with Microsoft Office, Adobe product, graphics editing tools,
blogging and social media tools

Other desirable skills experience:
* Video production/editing for online delivery
* A proven track record in creating and managing a web site
* Deep knowledge of the Internet and its best practices
* Experience working in a real-time news environment is desirable
* Knowledge of the land use, planning and real estate industry
* Experienced with Adobe publishing products, blog tools, online CMS, XHTML, CSS
and XML

How to Apply:
To apply, please submit a cover letter, resume, and salary requirement to
jobs@uli.org

Happy hunting!

Jodi

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