How to Prepare for Checks Beyond Your Reference List

June 17, 2010 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

Job hunters usually take care to provide a well-considered list of references who can vouch for their skills and expertise. Yet what about those references you don’t choose but that hiring managers sniff out “behind” your list, and seem eager to call to really check you out?

These days, recruiters and hiring managers are paying more attention to reference checks because each opportunity to hire has become more important — with fewer such chances in an organization. Consequently, they want to talk to people who candidates have worked with and who know about their background — warts and all. Though recruiters tend to start with the references listed and many won’t “out” a candidacy by checking with a current employer, often they want to do research beyond the reference list that was provided.

Is there anything a job hunter can do about this? Honestly, not much in terms of trying to stop a hiring manager from doing such checks (and if you try, you may look like you have something to hide, which is never useful).  Yet there are ways to try to minimize the damage to your candidacy from such checks and to prepare for when a hiring manager goes beyond your reference list, including:

*Leave a few references off your list. Journalism hiring managers, in particular, like to do a bit of digging. If you don’t list a reference at an organization where you worked (and especially someone you figure that they know) they may jump to check with them as a way to do further checking. In that case, it’s a win for you, as it’s someone who will speak in your favor. Be careful with this approach, though, you don’t want to leave off your list a key reference — if the hiring manager doesn’t find them, you’ll have lost the opportunity for them to vouch for you.

*Prepare your other references. If you’re worried that a hiring manager is sniffing around and getting potentially unflattering information about you from a former colleague or two you may have tussled with in the past, tell your other, trusted references that you suspect this is the case. With that information (especially if you have a good sense of what unflattering portrait that person may be painting of you) you can arm your listed references with information that can use to play defense. For instance, if a hiring manager finds out about a personality conflict you had with a former boss, a reference who worked there at the same time can explain the circumstances so that it isn’t a one-sided portrayal. Many times a reference on your list who knows you well can deflect criticism from others.

*Honesty is usually the best policy. If concerned about information out there — deserved or especially undeserved — that may come back to the hiring manager when they start checking you out, it’s often best to be up front with them about it. You don’t want to do this too soon in the hiring process but if it looks like you are a finalist for a position and they’re going to check references, it’s probably time to come clean. For example, let’s say you botched a project at an organization that you worked at several years ago, though your overall tenure at the company was successful. A former colleague who never liked you has been known to explain in detail how you messed up this project. If you suspect the hiring manager might hear about this anyway (and remember, D.C. is a very small town when it comes to such things, especially gossip) you might bring it up — perhaps when asked the “What are your weaknesses?” question during an interview — and then say that there is a former colleague who loves to tell that story. Then you can say what you learned from that situation. In this way, you’ve taken the sting out of the information the hiring manager may discover.

*Keep it in perspective. Though it’s never pleasant to realize that someone may be talking trash about you, good hiring managers tend to consider the information provided as only one piece of the puzzle among many when assessing your fitness for a particular job. Especially if your other references can put this information into a larger context, it may not become a big deal — so try not to sweat it too much. This is just another reason to develop a thick skin when job hunting. And it’s yet another reminder that you should try whenever possible to make co-workers your friend rather than your enemy — you never know when someone may be checking with them to see what you were like as a colleague.

*Recognizing what hiring managers and recruiters are looking for in candidates is key to a successful job search. offers five tips on what recruiters want from you (the second piece of advice is my favorite on this list!):

*Here’s today’s fresh leads to check out:

*The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University in D.C. is looking for a grants and communications manager:

Grants and Communications Manager
Georgetown University – Washington, DC
0306R – Grants and Communications Manager Dept: O… for 1) Grant Development and Management; 2) Communications Development and Management; and 3) Project…

*Washington Hospital Center in D.C. has an opening for a senior communications specialist — this involves working with publications, including their monthly newsletter:
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…

*Ketchum PR in D.C. has an opening for a vice president/account supervisor:
Vice President/Account Supervisor
Ketchum – Washington, DC
Bachelor’s degree in Communications, Public Relations, Journalism, English, Marketing, or a related field. Master’s degree in a communications field desirable…
From Ketchum

*The D.C. think tank Third Way has a senior staff opening for a director of its new economic program:
Third Way is seeking a Director of the Economic Program. This is a high profile, high impact, senior level policy position that supervises and coordinates all activities of the department and manages the work of three accomplished and high-performing senior policy staff and all outside consultants. The Director is a member of the senior management team of Third Way and reports to the VP for Policy.

The goal of the Economic Program is to develop and disseminate new policies, communications strategies, and frameworks in support of Third Way’s agenda to promote long term U.S. economic growth and middle class success. As one of five Third Way program areas, the Economic Program has been considered a groundbreaker and leader. The Program’s success has been featured in dozens of leading news outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and Politico. The Program’s policies and ideas have been adopted by leading voices in the House, Senate, and Administration. Many of the Program’s proposals have been introduced as legislation.

The Director of the Economic Program has both a policy and public role within the organization. The Director often represents the organization with Members of Congress and Governors, Administration officials, Hill staff, the business community, advocacy organizations, Third Way’s Board of Trustees, and the media.

This position affords qualified candidates with an extraordinary opportunity to help grow and brand a vibrant and important part of the progressive governing and political infrastructure. Our workplace is diverse, inclusive, collegial, and family friendly.


The ideal candidate has the following qualifications and skills:

  • Experience: Candidates should have a minimum of 7 years of relevant experience working in the policy or advocacy arena, Capitol Hill or Administration. (A graduate degree is helpful but not required.) A strong network of contacts on the Hill is preferred.
  • Management Expertise. Candidates should excel in and have significant experience managing others and managing projects. Candidates must be extremely organized, results-oriented, have strong political instincts and be able to keep multiple projects on track.
  • Policy Expertise: Candidates should have a strong general background in economic policy. Candidates with policy experience in tax and finance are preferred.
  • Creativity: Candidates should be prepared to work with a team that “thinks outside-the-box” and challenges existing orthodoxies.
  • Writing: Candidates must have proven ability to write compelling and high impact products.
  • Communications: Candidates must have strong public presentation ability.
  • Teamwork: Candidates should enjoy working in an extremely collaborative organization – collaboration with both Third Way senior management and policy staff.

FLEXIBILITY: Results-oriented and flexible culture.

COMPENSATION: Salary is competitive with senior congressional positions and similar positions in other policy organizations.

TO APPLY: Submit cover letter, resume, and salary requirements to: with “Director, Economic Program” as the subject line.

*With a hat tip to (for these next two positions),  (Atlantic Media’s) Government Executive in D.C. has an opening for a reporter/producer:

Company: Government Executive
Washington, District of Columbia
Job Status: Full-time
Salary: Not Specified
Ad Expires:
July 21, 2010
Job ID: 1177307

Government Executive Media Group, a unit of Atlantic Media, seeks a reporter/producer who can develop sources, write breaking news stories on daily deadlines and help us build innovative online tools and packages.

Daily responsibilities include:

  • Write news stories (approx. 500 words) on key federal agency management issues for and
  • Write brief summaries of news articles from various other publications.
  • Format and publish news articles and e-newsletters.
  • Help develop and implement ideas for interactive online applications.
  • Write pieces for the Trends (750-1,000 words) and Features (2,000-2,500 words) sections of Government Executive magazine

The ideal candidate will have a bachelor’s degree and 1-2 years of professional experience demonstrating strong writing and reporting skills with high attention to detail.

Government Executive is a monthly business magazine serving 70,000 senior executives and managers in the federal government’s departments and agencies. is the premier online news source covering the operations and management of the federal government. is the leading platform for breaking news, blog commentary and innovative tools on federal information technology issues.

All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Atlantic Media is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Send a resume and three examples of your work to Chawndese Hylton at

*And to wrap up today’s leads, the Migration Policy Institute in D.C. is seeking a deputy director of communications:

Company: Migration Policy Institute
Communications/Public Affairs
Washington, District of Columbia
Job Status: Full-time
Salary: Not Specified
Ad Expires:
July 16, 2010
Job ID: 1176165

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank dedicated to the study of national and international migration policies, seeks a Deputy Director of Communications to participate in the editing, production, and dissemination of research publications and other written products; write media and marketing materials as well as online and social media content; assist in the development and implementation of media communications/public information strategy; and other communications-related logistical and technical support.


The Deputy Director of Communications, who will report to the Director of Communications, should ideally possess the following professional qualifications and personal characteristics:

• Minimum of a bachelor’s degree with at least 5 years of experience or a master’s degree with at least 3 years of experience in journalism, communications, public relations, or a related field • Demonstrated excellent writing and editing skills, with the ability to write quickly, concisely, and with meticulous accuracy and attention to detail. (Chicago Manual of Style knowledge a distinct plus)

• Superior copy-editing and substantive editing skills

• Proven ability to be part of a fast-moving, dynamic environment and work effectively under pressure and under tight deadlines on multiple projects

• Superb organizational and interpersonal skills combined with the ability to prioritize demands

• Flexible, adaptable, and able to work collegially in a team environment

• Demonstrated skill in dealing with print and broadcast journalists, editors, bookers, and producers

• Knowledge of migration policy issues and the media world preferred

• Facility for understanding and using social media and new technologies a plus

• Foreign language capability (particularly Spanish) preferred, international experience a plus

Key Responsibilities

The successful candidate for this position will:

• Work with the Director of Communications and Communications Team to implement the Institute’s strategic communications plan and communicate its message to the media, the policy community, related research and advocacy groups, and legislators.

• Edit and shepherd through the production process the Institute’s research materials, including policy briefs, reports, and books.

• Write and edit press releases, media advisories, press kits, talking points, and other materials.

• Assist in shaping and executing media and external constituency outreach; and assist in handling incoming press inquiries.

• Develop and update content for the Web sites and assist in E-communications campaigns.

• Help write and prepare for dissemination electronic newsletters.

• Assist with taking photos, and shooting and editing video for the Web sites.

• Participate in the use of software, databases, and subscription services to maintain and expand the organization’s media and constituent databases.

• Perform research as needed for media outreach and to update media mailing lists.

• Other communications, events, and marketing logistics.

To Apply

Interested candidates should send a cover letter, resume, writing sample, and salary expectations to by July 15, 2010. Please reference “Deputy Director of Communications” in the subject line. We will be reviewing applications as they are sent, so early submissions are strongly encouraged.

Due to the large number of applicants, only those candidates being considered for the position will be contacted. No phone calls please.

Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience. Excellent benefits package offered.

The Migration Policy Institute is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual or gender orientation, religion or physical ability.

Happy hunting! I’m taking off for a long summer weekend, so will be back with you early in the next work week!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

What Job Hunters Can Learn From the Campaign Trail When You’ve Been Looking For a Long Time

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