Young and Frugal has an interesting posting on asking a potential employer for references - that's right, before you take a job with a company, ask if you can have some references on the boss and his leadership style. I'm intrigued. I've advised people to do their background research before accepting a new job, but never specifically suggested that candidates ask for references on the boss.
As someone who does staffing consulting and runs a lot of search committees, I can't say I'm opposed to the idea. Like everything, I suppose it's all about how the idea is put into action. I could see being impressed with a candidate who asked for references on the boss. I could also envision being put off by it, depending on how it's done. With that thought in mind, here are a few do's and don'ts to consider...
- DO keep in mind that the interview process is about finding a match between your skills and interests and the potential employers needs and opportunities. Therefore, position your request for references as further exploration of this match and not as a background check.
- DON'T come across as self-focused. See the point above - stay focused on the possibility of a match!
- DO explain what you are doing. Since this is a novel approach to the career search, there is a possibility that people will be surprised when you ask. Be prepared with a clear statement of what you are doing. e.g., "Based on everything I have heard so far, I am really excited about the potential of working here. As you go through your process of checking my references you'll have the chance to learn more about what I can bring to the table here. I would like to have a similar opportunity to learn about how joining this department at XYZ company can help me grow in my career. So I would also like to speak to 2 or 3 individuals who can tell me a little about what it's like to work with Ms. [hiring manager] as a colleague and a peer. Would you be able to give me some people I can call."
- DON'T make your reference check process more formal than it needs to be. One of my clients has all finalists for any position in the company meet every member of the leadership team and many of the staff before extending an offer. If you go through several interview session like this, take advantage of those opportunities to ask your "reference checking" questions. In a case like this company, if a candidate with through the full interview process and then asked for references on the hiring manager, I would wonder if he had been engaged in the interview process since he would have already had ample time to ask his questions.
- DO keep context in mind. If you are applying for a job as a creative intern at Pixar and you are among the hundreds of art student hopefuls who are beating down their door every summer, and you luck into an interview think twice before asking to do a reference check on the boss. It's possible they will refer you to their latest blockbuster dvd's as their references before gently showing you the door as they wave in the next candidate.
Growing a career requires that you constantly develop your skills and make a contribution - doing some reference checking to make sure the job you are about to accept will allow you to accomplish both of these activities well is a wise idea!