Further Questions: What value do you place on references?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

What value do you place on references? When in the process do you contact references, if you contact them at all? Who do you expect to see on the reference list and does it vary based on where an applicant is in their career? What are some of the questions you ask of references and how do the answers influence your decision to hire? 

Laurie Phillips

For us (medium-sized academic library where librarians are faculty), references are really important. We generally contact references after phone interviews as a way of narrowing down to the final 3 or 4 who will be invited to campus. We do not call references for all of the candidates who are interviewed by phone so it’s a second cut. This last search, we posted our phone reference notes for all of the library faculty to view so everyone could participate in the final decision. We ask the references very specific questions that are relatable to the position, but wouldn’t necessarily require that the reference be a librarian. They are about collaboration and project management, readiness for this type of position, etc. I won’t get into specifics! If we can’t reach references or they are old references and the candidate hasn’t contacted them, we will drop the candidate. No question. It says something about you as a candidate if your references won’t respond or don’t even remember you. We want people who can talk about your work, your skills, your maturity. It would be nice to talk with someone at your current job, but not required. Be careful with using library school professors. Some of the can extrapolate from their experiences of working with you in the classroom and some can’t. Choose wisely. We also must have 3 letters of reference on file at time of offer, but that is after a decision has been made – it’s just for the faculty file.
– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

We always check references but not until we’re otherwise willing to hire someone. So usually that means we only check references for one candidate. The call is placed by HR, so I don’t have detail on the actual conversation, but it’s basically fact verification, like position title and dates of employment. We do only accept references by someone who was a direct supervisor, and we need three of those. It’s not uncommon to ask a candidate in an interview to get back to us with alternate names, which can be informative in itself.
– Kristen Northrup, North Dakota State Library

Marleah AugustineI think it is always worthwhile to contact references. In some cases I call references prior to interviews, but I usually wait to see who shines during the interview process and then only contact references for those top-ranked candidates. Who is on the reference list does definitely depend on where an applicant is in their career, but regardless, I want to see current and former supervisors on the list, or colleagues in general. I get nervous when I see a reference listed as “friend”. Even someone who is just starting out in their career can list teachers, internship supervisors, or people who supervised their volunteer work as references. I ask very open ended questions — mostly “What can you tell me about _____?” The answer that comes from the reference can range from a fairly stock answer (which is fine, but not as convincing) all the way to a response that truly shows that the reference knows the applicant and is (hopefully) willing to be honest and up front. If I need the reference to expand on their answer, I’ll ask for follow-ups like if the candidate is punctual and organized, and maybe offer up a situational-type question and ask how the candidate might handle it.

In the end, responses from references are a helpful piece of the puzzle but don’t necessarily outweigh the other parts of the hiring process.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

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Filed under Further Questions

2 responses to “Further Questions: What value do you place on references?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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