References are truly the lynch-pin in the staffing process. Get it right and everything will function smoothly, get it wrong and the whole mechanism falls apart.
No matter how well written your resume is or how brilliantly you performed in your interview, the job offer is not final until your references have been verified. Employers rely heavily on the information your references provide about you. Reference checks provide assurance to the healthcare organizations that you are the caliber of provider you said you were, so the employer can feel confident they are staffing the candidate with the skills and experience that were implied on the resume and during the interview.
References are also the step in the staffing process where you have the least control. Oh sure, you exercise control over who you choose to be your references but there are no guarantees that a reference will respond they way you had assumed they would.
Here are a few steps that you can take to keep your references from going sour on you.
- The best references know you well and have firsthand knowledge of your work skills. Avoid choosing someone who does not have direct contact with you in the clinical setting. Employers are looking for someone who can speak to your professional and clinical skills. In fact, most reference forms will point blank ask your reference whether they have directly observed you in practice. Most reference forms also contain a skills checklist where the reference is asked to rate your proficiency of a variety of items. If the reference you have chosen is too distant or does not work in an equivalent role to yours, this may lead to some unfavorable responses or responses that don’t carry much weight with a prospective employer. To ensure your references are relevant, it’s best to stay away from colleagues you haven’t worked with for some time, such as student peers from your college days or any non-healthcare related reference. And always, always include at least one current or recent supervisor.
- Steer clear of the procrastinator. We all know that colleague who is a lovely person and would gladly say lovely things about our clinical achievements – once they finally get around to it. Speed matters when it comes to reference checks. Employers often have up to three final candidates they are considering and, in a fast-paced market, the job offer is very likely go to the applicant whose reference checks arrive first. If the person you are considering using as your reference is slow to answer emails, has a mile-high stack of paperwork on their desk or is always running late, you would do well to cross them off your list of potential references.
- Keep your references in the loop. Good references can go bad when they are caught off guard by a stream of reference requests. This usually happens when you are applying for several positions or if you do a great deal of short-term or locums work. If your reference is not kept apprised of each time you are seeking a new assignment, then suddenly receive a batch of new reference requests for you, they might get a tad annoyed. No one likes surprises, so if a few months have passed and you are now expecting a new round of reference checks, please take a moment to reconnect with your reference folks. Verify their willingness to continue to serve as your reference, let them know who might be contacting them and how much you appreciate them taking the time. It’s only good manners.
References are a critical step in securing a job offer. It’s important you put as much effort into choosing and maintaining your references during an assignment, just as you did during the application process. Choose the right persons who can speak to your skills and will respond in a timely manner. Once chosen, take care to treat them with the respect they deserve for stepping up for you when you needed their assistance in your job search.