How to set up reference checks

Swoop (what used to be Shopximity) is in full-on recruiting mode. We are looking for both experienced and up-and-coming full stack developers who love startup life, open-source tools, cloud deployment and are deeply plugged into the tech ecosystem. I’m having a blast meeting with great engineers.

The part that is proving less fun is setting up references–it just takes too long to schedule them and it slows the entire recruiting process down. In fact, a back-channel reference currently takes me about 3-4x less time to get to than one a candidate provides.

The typical process for setting up a reference check goes like this:

  1. Hiring manager asks for references
  2. Candidate sends emails to several people asking for a phone call
  3. Scheduling back and forth
  4. Candidate talks to reference about opportunity
  5. Candidate shoots an email intro to reference and hiring manager
  6. Scheduling back and forth
  7. Hiring manager talks to the reference

The process takes too long because scheduling happens twice, serially. A better, faster way to make things happen is for the candidate to send an introductory email along the lines of the following:

Joe, Sim ( is recruiting me to [the ground floor team at his new startup] Swoop. I’m interested in the company because they are solving some very hard problems at the intersection of search, content & advertising–areas that I have a lot of interest in. I’d appreciate it if you took some time to give him a sense of what it’s like to work with me and what I bring to a venture. You can reach Sim at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Sim, Joe ( was CTO at WiredBrain back when we were working on the mobile SDK for brain implant location tracking. He recruited me to WiredBrain in 2005 and was my boss until 2008 when I left to join Google. You can reach Joe at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Best regards,

Here are the top three reasons why this works so much better:

  1. The candidate comes off as more confident because they are ready to make a direct connection with a reference. The process moves faster. A decision is reached sooner.
  2. Candidates save time because they are out of the scheduling loop. If a candidate wants to talk to the reference first, he can send a separate email to the reference and not include phone numbers. Otherwise, adding phone numbers helps because sometimes one can squeeze a lot more calls in a dedicated block of time as opposed to having to schedule every single call.
  3. The email provides context that’s helpful to everyone and makes reference checking more efficient. There is information about the two people who are about to talk. There is some information about the company and the candidate’s interest which can be helpful to the reference. There is also information about the context of the relationship between the candidate and the reference and the type of work that was done which helps a hiring manager set up an efficient reference check.

Last but not least, don’t set up just a couple of references. Set up lots. The hiring manager doesn’t want to and probably won’t talk to all of them but they’ll be able to get through a handful quicker and reach a decision sooner. It also shows a lot of confidence to set up many references. If you only set up a couple, there is always the question of whether these are the only people who know you and your work.

About Simeon Simeonov

Entrepreneur. Investor. Trusted advisor.
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4 Responses to How to set up reference checks

  1. EXCELLENT advice, Sim. The only thing that bugs me is that it’s necessary to dole out this sort of advice in this day and age. C’est la vie. DO IT, people!

  2. Bob says:

    Very good points. I would like to point out a couple of important details that people should keep in mind. The first is that you should spend time when you are not looking for job to keep your reference relationships warm. If you don’t then they are probably not going to give as good of a reference to you, much less remember what you did for or with them when you worked for or with them. You should also send a copy of your resume or some sort of job description to them so that they have a reference point for what you did way back when. The less time they have to spend doing homework to provide a reference the more likely it is that they will provide a great one. The other thing that you should do is talk to your references before you start looking for a job. They might have some suggestions for you, but in the least they will appreciate the heads up. References that don’t call you back quickly will probably not call your prospective employer back quickly either and this is big issue. Reluctance to follow-up or call back can often be an omen of a less than stellar reference to come.

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