Executive References: 7 Ways to Get a Referral up to the Standards of a Search Firm

The reputation of Executive Search firms depends on the longevity and success of their placed executives. A crucial part of the retained executive search process is a detailed review of executive references to ensure that there is the best possible fit and that the CV is accurate.

A solid reference is key in executive searchThere are certain potential legal issues with executive references, but when you reach the right people and are specific about the information that you request, then references are always valuable. And assuring candidates invited for interview that references of short- listed candidates will be checked can save you much wasted time!

Here are seven things worth bearing in mind when you are taking executive references:

  1. Ask the chosen candidate(s) for the names of their closest colleagues and ask them for permission to approach those people for a reference. Peer group, subordinates and bosses are all valuable sources. In the case of some executives, customers/clients, suppliers and partners can all contribute.
  2. If you have no other information, use LinkedIn or other social media to get the email addresses of the referees. A quick InMail on LinkedIn is often the best way to make contact. Assuring referees that their contribution will be unattributed will improve the candour of their responses significantly.
  3. Don’t ask the referees for an open-ended reference but do supply them with the Assignment Brief so that they can envisage the role under consideration. Compile a simple form based around the key deliverables that you are recruiting for. Ask specific questions with a scale of one to five for answers and space to note examples and comment.
  4. Be very specific in the information you ask for. In this way, you are far more likely to get the information that you require.
  5. Personalise the request. Explain how invested you are in getting quality information and how helpful the information will be. Above all explain your preference for a brief (remember unattributed) phone call. You will find referees are more forthcoming when the process feels like a conversation.
  6. When taking the reference by phone, listen for the specific word choices and the tone and enthusiasm with which the referee describes the candidate. Shifts in tone and hesitations indicate that you’ve hit a sensitive subject. Don’t shy away from exploring the reasons for these hesitations.
  7. Ensure that all the basics are covered – key deliverables, management style, source of motivation are all valuable contributions for your client in finalising the decision to hire. Indeed areas where others may need to support the candidate once appointed (sometimes referred to as weaknesses) are also worth exploring. After all no one is perfect. And always thank referees for their time.

Referencing is central to the integrity of Search, for clients and for candidates.

As a leader in retained search, Cornerstone Group has deep global experience vetting and recruiting candidates that successfully fill critical vacancies for our clients. We also provide board advisory services and executive coaching, to help organizations adapt to times of accelerating and volatile change. If you’d like to talk with one of our consultants, please get in touch with us today.

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