How to 'Reference Check' a Potential Employer


Whether you’re looking to make a career move or considering offers for a first job out of school, landing at the right organization is key to success. While the institution is vetting you, your skills and your qualifications, it’s a good idea to take their lead and do the same. You’ll want to make sure they’re as good a match for you as you are for them.

In a recent survey, 33% of new hires admitted they quit their job within the first 90 days of employment. Organizations work to reduce early career attrition rates, and so should job seekers. Asking the right questions and doing a bit of research can help assure you’re not only landing in the right role for today, you’ll be able to grow in the organization in the future. There are several ways to make sure it’s the right fit during the interview process and on your own.


Mismatched Expectations
In the survey, over 40% of respondents cited the job they discussed during the interview process didn’t match what they were expected to perform. It’s a best practice to ask for a copy of the job description early on in the hiring process, and to ask every hiring authority along the way if it’s current and an accurate reflection of the day-to-day role. On paper, that should work, but too often hiring authorities don’t have a real feel for the daily grind.

If possible, ask to meet with members of the team and ask if the job description is current and really represents duties and expectations. If it isn’t, you may find what it’s really like to work for the organization. You may also wonder why the institution doesn’t prioritize keeping the job descriptions current – what other important tasks are not addressed?


Putting their Best Foot Forward
The same study found one-third of those who resigned early on cited the culture of the organization didn’t meet their expectations. Most companies work hard to promote a culture of inclusion and equity; others work hard to present such a culture on social media. You’ll want to find an organization that’s genuine – that can mean digging a little deeper.

When an institution promotes its values and culture online, it’s a best practice to delve deeper during the interview process. If they boast a culture of inclusion and diversity, ask what programs and initiatives they can cite that execute their commitment. If their online presence suggests a commitment to social responsibility, ask for examples. Don’t assume that just because web pages appear to have a diverse workforce, they do. If culture is important to you, ask for details.

Whatever values you hold that you would like to see reflected in the work you do and the organization you represent are worth inquiring about. You may find companies with little online boasting do more that mirror your beliefs than those with a polished presence.


Discussing the Transition
Well before you’re ready to accept an offer, ask about the transition. What type of training is offered – and for how long? If there is a formal onboarding process, ask for details – like whether you’ll be assigned a buddy to help you navigate your first weeks, or if there are mentor programs available. You’ll want to know the facility is planning for your success with a structured onboarding process. You’ll also want to know what their plans are for you in the future. Mentor and training programs can help you plan for long-term goals with the facility.


Behind the Scenes
Online sites that allow workers to discuss the pros and cons of their organization continue to grow – good news for job seekers. The more you can find about an institution, the more informed you’ll be before you accept an offer of employment. But it can be helpful to look beyond employee rating sites for a truer picture of the organization.

How do consumers rate the facility? Are you reading complaints about long wait times, overbooking, or understaffing? If you thrive in a hectic environment, it might be just the right fit. If not, you may be taking on other people’s problems before day one. Often consumer ratings are as important as employee’s, which can sometimes be solicited by the facility. Try to find the truest picture of the institution before you sign on the offer letter’s dotted line.

The more information you can garner during the hiring process about the role and the institution, the more likely you are to find a great fit. Doing a bit of homework and asking the right questions before you say yes could mean beating the 90 day attrition odds and finding a long-term career choice.


Riia O’Donnell has over 20 year’s hands-on experience in all aspects of the Human Resource function. Beginning as a recruiter, she grew to lead in all areas of HR, including employee training and development, legal compliance, benefits administration, compensation evaluation, and staff management. She has been a contributing writer for a wealth of HR, training, and small business websites for the past 7 years. Connect with Riia on Twitter at @RiiaOD.

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