A good friend and former co-worker of mine recently asked me to be one of his references for a CEO position for which he is being considered. Naturally I said yes. I know him well and can extol his virtues with ease so I didn’t give a second thought to what kinds of things I might say about him when asked. But then my friend amazed me. He sent me detailed notes about his potential employer, the position, short and long term goals for the company and the position, and the specific reasons that he is being considered for the job. Wow, was I impressed.
I think that anyone who asks a former boss or colleague to be a reference should do just what my friend did and outline talking points for referrers. For one thing, it makes it easier for your referrers to target their comments. Second, it gives you a little bit of control over the direction the conversation might take.
I have found that when recruiters ask for references they usually only ask a few questions and that they ask at least one behavioral interview question (give me an example of a time when Suzie….). However, for C-level jobs the questions can be quite in-depth and it’s always best to be prepared.
Following is a template you can use when preparing your references to answer questions about you from recruiters/potential employers:
1. Background about the company you are applying to. Include company name, what they do, website, ticker symbol, and information about their current financial situation (profitable, turnaround situation, start-up).
a. If relevant include information about company founders or the current management team.
b. Describe how the company got to where they are today – for example, did they create the market for their product?
c. Is the company subject to regulations and if so, by what entity?
d. If the company is owned by a private equity or venture firm you should provide the name of the firm and, if possible, the partner responsible for oversight of the company.
2. What are the key objectives for the incumbent to the job for which you are being considered? List your strengths or specific examples in your background that link to these objectives.
3. What are the key drivers for the hiring manager (CEO, executive team, venture firm etc.) in determining which candidate they will hire? List any attributes you have that link to these drivers.
4. Why are you being considered for this role? Communicate which of your strengths, skills, and experience attracted the recruiters to you so your referrers can emphasize your strengths.
5. Make sure your referrers understand why you are interested in the job. Give specific details about why you are interested in the specific industry, specific company, and specific challenges you are being hired to address.
6. Give your referrer a heads-up about any concerns that have been communicated to you by the recruiter or hiring executives about skill gaps or perceived weaknesses in your background. If you know of any concerns the company has about your candidacy give your referrers rebuttal talking points they can use to counter concerns and to emphasize your fit for the role.