The Reference Check: How They Are Different

Here's what you should know about your reference check and who is handling it within the interview & hiring process.

One of the trends that has changed drastically over the last three to five years is the reference check.  When I was first in the industry, it was the responsibility of myself as the recruiter of record to do all reference checking before a final offer would even be contemplated. The reference check would consist of reaching out to past employees, past colleagues, and issuers that the candidate felt comfortable discussing their potential move, bond counsels under the same conditions, municipal advisors for public finance bankers, and public finance bankers for municipal advisors. I was never concerned that by doing a reference check I would be putting any of my candidates’ careers in jeopardy. One of the candidate’s biggest concerns. 

What Has Changed?

The biggest thing that has changed is that the recruiter is no longer doing the reference check. Instead, the hiring manager is doing due diligence behind the scenes. Managers are not even asking candidates to provide a list of names as references. I am not saying this is the trend across all industries; however, I am saying this is happening in our public finance environment. The assumption I must make is that due to the size of our cottage industry and everyone knowing everyone, it is much easier for a manager to pick up a phone and call a friend to find out about a potential candidate. In addition, for the hiring managers, they already have a “hit list” of candidates they have either vetted or have watched as they have developed over their career. Many times, I will talk to a manager, and he/she will say, “This is one of the candidates that we have always wanted, thanks.” Thus, the benefit of opportunistic hiring.

Benefits Of The Reference Check 

Recruiters have always used the reference check as a way to validate their candidates. Because of our vast knowledge of people in our industry, we sometimes have personal experience that we can share with the hiring managers. This gives them a greater sense of comfort while talking to a candidate and potentially hiring them. When I was doing reference checks, we asked numerous questions. I will share some of the more esoteric questions in next week’s blog. Besides the obvious questions, one of the benefits of the reference check that I valued a great deal was to ascertain how my hiring manager was to best manage his/her new employee. This area of the reference check has been omitted, as far as I am concerned, and should be reinstated as soon as feasible. Lately, we have been providing these questions to our managers to help them dive a little deeper when talking about a new potential candidate.

 Providing References

As a candidate, if you are asked to provide references there are a few suggestions I would like to make.  The first suggestion is to immediately respond with, “I will have those to you by the end of the day.” This will convey a couple different things with a reference check. Number one is that you are proud of your references, and you have no concern with anybody talking about you. The second idea is that you think about who would provide you the most applicable reference. By “applicable” I mean specifically someone that can truly answer the questions about how you work, who you work with, your ability to work on your own, your ability to complete tasks on time, etc. Providing a reference that could only say you are a good guy or gal is not going to move the ball forward in your hiring process.

Additional Materials Other Than Your Reference Check

In addition to providing names and references for certain positions, specifically bond counsels and maybe analysts, a work product or writing sample may be requested. More and more firms are trying to determine the quality of a candidate’s work by having them submit these documents for review. My suggestion here is rather than redacting an existing document, find out specifically what a hiring manager is looking for and draft a memorandum/document to highlight your capabilities.


If you would like to discuss your options, please reach out for a confidential conversation at 760-477-1284 or email at [email protected]. He can also be reached on LinkedIn. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here, which is a compilation of our weekly blogs, so you never miss one. You can find our listing in the “supplier and services” section of the Red Book under the title of “executive recruiting”.

About Harlan Friedman, JD & Founding Member, H. Friedman Search LLC. Harlan is a thirty-year veteran Public Finance Banker turned recruiter who specializes in the placement of all levels Public Finance Bankers, Healthcare Bankers, Municipal Advisors, Compliance Officers, Issuers, and Bond Counsels.