What Do Your References Say About You?

Ever wish you knew what people are saying about you behind closed doors? When it comes to your personal life – maybe. But in your professional life? If it can make the difference between getting that new job or big promotion, then definitely.

When it comes to these kinds of job-related opinions from others, we now have a better idea of what people are saying than ever before.

What Do Your References Say About You

That’s because we collected and reviewed confidential verbatim feedback that included approximately 2,200 open-ended comments from 893 references for 263 job candidates in healthcare, 90% of whom were RNs. In other words, we examined what references said when they took the time to write their thoughts in an optional “comments” text box that was part of a confidential reference assessment.

We took those comments and categorized them into some major themes, comprised mainly of personality traits (like conscientiousness), and other work-related behaviors such as communication and problem solving. What they shared offers a useful window into what’s being said, in private, about job candidates – and ways in which you might be able to set yourself apart.

The Results

Here are the top five strengths highlighted by references: conscientiousness (for example, dependability, work ethic, and attention to detail), being team-focused, caring for others, professionalism, and problem solving. Perhaps this isn’t surprising – references hopefully would be saying these kinds of positive things about job candidates.

While it’s nice to hear about your strengths, it’s probably more interesting – and useful – to know what your managers and peers are saying about your areas for improvement. Here are the top four areas cited by references about healthcare (mostly RN) candidates (along with the percentage of time they were mentioned):

  • Conscientiousness – 26% (Interestingly, this personality trait shows up on both lists – but it’s mentioned more often as an area for improvement than as a strength.)
  • Self-care (making sure you don’t suffer from burn-out) – 16%
  • Communication – 11%
  • Multi-tasking and time management – 11%

These results show that job references can be pretty honest and direct when giving verbatim feedback about candidates. So what are some key recommendations?

  1. Choose your references carefully – Make sure the people who you’re asking to recommend and endorse you are the strongest possible advocates for your skills, experience and professionalism on the job.
  2. Demonstrate your strengths – You can set yourself apart if your references can speak clearly about your conscientiousness, ability to communicate effectively, problem solving, and other areas that are important for success in the workplace.
  3. Give your references a heads up – Advise them of the position you are seeking. Remember that references will not only be asked about your work strengths, but about areas in which you can improve your work. These are areas that may be discussed with you during your job interviews.

About the Author: Cynthia A. Hedricks, Ph.D., is Chief Analytics Officer at SkillSurvey, the leading provider of confidential, science-based reference assessments that help employers make better hiring decisions.

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