Bob Larson, CPC
Bob Larson, CPC

Career Report
February, 2008 — Issue 96

Job References You Can’t Control

If you’re interviewing for a job these days, beware: Your prospective boss may have called your references before you even walk through the door—and they may not be the contacts you provided.

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, professional networking sites such as LinkedInCorp and JobsterInc. are making it easier for employers to get in touch with people who have worked with job candidates or knew them personally. Recruiters say they use such sites—where people create online profiles and link to professional colleagues who are also members—to find mutual connections they can hit for information. Many hiring managers say they even check to see if they have mutual connections with a candidate on Facebook and MySpace, the popular social networking sites.

The trend, which started mostly with Web-savvy recruiters in the technology industry, is now spreading to other industries such as human resources and financial services, said Cathy Henesey, talent acquisition leader at appliance maker American Standard Co. Recruiters typically use networking sites to check up on entry-level and midlevel job seekers, she pointed out. But even professionals and CFOs have experienced the practice, often referred to as “informal reference checking.”

Traditionally, recruiters have called references after a thorough face-to-face interview, the article noted. Contacts are provided by the job seekers and are typically people who are likely to provide a positive recommendation. But for a growing number of job seekers, networking sites have completely changed everything, said Dennis Smith, senior recruiting manager at T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG. Now, recruiters can access entire personal networks, said Smith, who checks Facebook, LinkedIn and Jobster for mutual connections before he interviews a candidate in person.

Because online contact lists are typically viewable right on members’ profile pages, hiring managers can quickly identify relevant contacts and confidentially message these people through the networking site, according to the article. But such reference checking can expose job seekers to certain risks. Many site users routinely connect online to people they only have glancing relationship with—say, someone who simply works at the same company–and there is no guarantee that the references will be favorable.

Nevertheless, such checking can work to a job-seekers’ advantage too. Chandan Mahajan told the newspaper his LinkedIn profile–which lists his previous work experience, displays eight recommendations from former colleagues and shows that he has more than 100 connections online—helped him land a job as a businesses-development manager for Wipro Tecnologolies, a global information-technology-services business of Wipro Ltd. The recruiters “did say there were a couple of people they knew in my network,” said Mahajan of East Brunswick, N.J.

Wipro Technologies did confirm that it had contacted some of Mahajan’s connections after the first interview. “We did every informal check,” said Madhulika Goel, the company’s manager of strategic resourcing. In fact, Wipro didn’t ask him for a standard résumé during initial interviews, opting instead to use Mahajan’s online profile.

For job seekers, “it’s kind of a caution and an empowerment,” says Jobster CEO Jason Goldberg. If your online profile is clean and you are connected to people through social networks who would say favorable things about your abilities, it may help you land the job,” he said.

Some recruiters believe the tactic can backfire though, the article noted. “You have to be careful referencing people who have jobs because you might blow them out of their jobs,” said Charles Wardell, managing director at executive recruiter Korn/Ferry International Eastern Region.

Recruiting experts also caution that job seekers should be careful about choosing people to connect with on networking sites. Steven Rothberg, president and founder of, a job site for college students and recent graduates, recommends extra precaution for job hunters who are worried that their online profiles could hurt their chances. Some sites allow members to adjust privacy settings on a profile so that your contacts can’t be viewed by other members, he noted.

“If you’re the kind of person who has good friends who will reflect well upon you, then it’s a good idea for the employer to be calling those friends” said Rothberg. “If you are going to have friends who are at best questionable in dealing with a potential employer on your behalf, you are probably better off not having those friends visible in your network.”

News from BLK

We are very excited to offer our clients a cutting-edge staffing product we’ve developed to address the growing problem of retention in the workplace. Susan Cocchiaro, PHR, CTS, CERS, and Michele Meussner, CTS would love to share the details of this process with you – please call Susan at 201-556-2882, or Michele at 201-556-2884 to schedule an informative webinar.

Bob Larson, CPC will travel to Florida in early February to chair the NAPS (National Association of Personnel Services) planning Conference and to work on the 2008 Annual Convention, to be held in Orlando next fall.