We have heard it time and time again - top talent always has options - they can play off one company against the other, play the counter-offer game to score additional pay and benefits, and particularly in hot technical fields, seem to remain immune from the tough employment climate. For the most part, talented technical workers, with skills in the 'right' areas, are in demand and will likely have many more options to consider than the one you are trying to recruit them into, or if they are currently on your staff, are probably getting weekly overtures to make a jump.
So in an environment where this sliver or subset of the employment market seems to be playing by a different set of rules that the broader world, it is quite likely that strategies, tactics, and candidate expectations also are unlike 'normal' and traditional processes. And in the recruiting/assessment process, no step is no more 'normal' than the good old fashioned reference check. Of course you know the drill - candidate makes it past the phone screen and rounds one or two of the interview process, and then it's time for some diligent HR pro to call in those references that are always 'available upon request'. Where the reference check goes from there depends mostly on your belief in the importance of such things and the level and scope of the position you are hiring for. But either way, the candidate is almost always the one on the hook to provide some level of external validation of how wonderful they are.
But for super-talented and in-demand technical and other folks is this model beginning to shift? Take a look at an excerpt from an interesting piece on the User Interface Engineering blog earlier this week:
The advice I’m giving to senior, more experienced folks is not to think about their next project as much as they think about their next manager. What traits should that manager have? How do they support their team? When things get rough, how do they deliver guidance? Do they regularly give out praise? Do they take a deep interest in the work and in their employee’s future?
I recommend folks interview the entire team and learn what it’s like to work for that manager. What happens when the going gets tough? What examples are there of team members growing, learning, and getting encouragement? Do team members talk about how the manager exhibits the desired traits?
My good friend, Amy Jackson, who works as a talent agent for wünderkind UX designers, suggests you take it a step further and ask the hiring manager for his or her references. Amy says to tell them you want to make the right decision and you need to check them out. Her thinking is that if the hiring manager isn’t secure enough give out sound references, they may be sending a signal.
Nice. A good old fashioned 'reverse-the-heat' scenario that some hotshot young, (ok they don't have to be young, but it reads better that way), one day soon is going to call you out, Mr. or Ms. hiring manager and ask you to hand over that one-pager with three of your references. The names of three people, that you managed or mentored that would stand up for your ability as a leader, manager, mentor, and someone that should be entrusted to the next step of the candidate's career, and likely much of their day-to-day happiness and engagement at work. Sure, many interview processes have the candidate 'meet the team', but the existing team members that are currently under the manager's control are not likely to be too forthcoming, particularly if the 'reference' would not be all that positive.
Interesting spin and a challenging one at that. Now I have never actually heard of this happening in the wild, but I bet it has.
What do you think? Has a candidate ever asked you to pony up some names of past employees they could run references on?
Could you hand over three names on demand?
What might your former staff say about you?