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Ask the Headhunter: Is this employer asking for too many references?

Question: I’m working through a headhunter on a position and I’m the top candidate so far. He spoke to references from my last two employers, and all the references came back good. Now the headhunter wants the name of a supervisor I worked for over seven years ago – I don’t know if I can track him down. Why aren’t all these references adequate?

I’ve got the feeling the company has unusual hiring practices and is not very trusting. I don’t know what they’re searching for or what they think they will find. This tells me the company might be difficult to work for. Any advice?

Nick Corcodilos: Don’t read too much into this request for older references. If anything, companies err by not checking enough references – some don’t bother to check at all.

Sometimes companies learn to check references thoroughly only after they get burned. That may be what happened to this one. Give them whatever information and help you can in tracking down your old boss, but don’t give them an attitude. The headhunter is doing his job, and the company is trying to ensure it’s got a good candidate.

Think of it this way. If the company checks all references this carefully, and you go to work there, odds are good you’ll wind up working only with great people who have also been thoroughly checked out. It’s a tough job market and some people are claiming skills and credentials they don’t really have. So, don’t let the thoroughness of the reference check bother you. If they can’t locate your old boss, at least you cooperated. The rest is up to them.

There is one thing you should be aware of. Some headhunters harvest potential candidates for other search assignments through the reference check process. In itself, this isn’t a problem as long as the headhunter handles it diplomatically. If the headhunter confuses the reference checking with recruiting efforts, however, the headhunter could be doing you and the client a disservice. You might want to explain that you do not want your references to be recruited during the reference check because you don’t think that’s appropriate.

See “Reference Abuse: Don’t do it” and “References: 5 reasons to withhold them.”

Dear Readers: Has an employer or recruiter ever abused reference information you have provided? How would you advise this reader?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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