Ask Deb: Is My Manager The Best Reference For Me
Ask Deb: Is My Manager The Best Reference For Me
Dear Deb:

I was reorganized out of my job a few months back, and I’m now in the final rounds of interviews for a position at a competitor of my former company. The application materials indicate that any offer is contingent upon a successful background check, including a reference check. This is what I’m confused about. My manager at my last job had 17 direct reports. As a result, he really wasn’t involved in my day-to-day work and didn’t necessarily even know what projects I’d been working on. I, as with most of the team, was fairly self-directed. When it was time for performance reviews, I would do my self-evaluation, he would sign off on it with very few comments, and that would be it.

I know that it’s better to give a former manager as a reference than it is to give a peer, but in this case, I don’t know that my manager would have anything of substance to say about my performance. What do you advise?


Hi Trevor:

Hiring managers prefer that references be former direct managers because they are the ones best suited to speak about the quality of your work, and the “big picture” about your performance. However, it sounds like, at your last company, your manager was stretched pretty thin and did not have time for really managing his employees.

Assuming you had a good or decent working relationship with him, you should give him a call and tell him what you told me. Ask him if he needs more information from you regarding your accomplishments and achievements. Most people want to help other people where they can.

Alternatively, you could explain the situation to the hiring manager. Tell her what you’ve told me, and offer to provide her with references to people familiar with your work, including co-workers and clients.

In the end, it’s important to remember that hiring isn’t an exact science. Sometimes references aren’t checked at all. Sometimes reference checks are conducted superficially. And sometimes references are checked behind the scenes, without you ever knowing about it. It’s best to be forthcoming and prepared.

All my best,