Struggling to provide a 'valid' reference

Piigs fly's picture
Rank: Senior Chimp | 29

I've received a verbal offer a week ago from a tech startup. I'm now in the reference check stage. HR initially asked me for two references, but has then been constantly following-up with me and has asked me for a total of five references.

The problem that they're facing is that none of my managers are willing to provide an elaborate reference - they only confirmed the title, dates and possibly duties - due to strict company policies at the hedge funds I previously worked at.

I realize this is increasingly becoming the norm, especially in finance, but HR at this startup is not relenting. She wants a manager who can speak about the quality of my work.

Fear I might lose this offer.

Comments (6)

Jun 15, 2019
Piigs fly:

I've received a verbal offer a week ago from a tech startup. I'm now in the reference check stage. HR initially asked me for two references, but has then been constantly following-up with me and has asked me for a total of five references.

The problem that they're facing is that none of my managers are willing to provide an elaborate reference - they only confirmed the title, dates and possibly duties - due to strict company policies at the hedge funds I previously worked at.

I realize this is increasingly becoming the norm, especially in finance, but HR at this startup is not relenting. She wants a manager who can speak about the quality of my work.

This is disturbing me as I feel helpless. Fear I might lose this offer as I've turned down other offers based on their verbal offer.

Put down your mom's name, but make sure she'll speak highly of your first.

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Jun 15, 2019

I've dealt with this before - just an overzealous HR person. I gave her a call and explained my situation over the phone (references are limited by policy, etc.) and that I could provide her with peers or other possible checks; but could not change the policy of my former employers.

I followed this up with an email to my new hiring manager (cc'ing HR) explaining the situation and that I was happy to provide whatever verification necessary, but unable to provide references for the rationale above.

It's extremely important to take control of the situation with your hiring manager (the actual authority) and not let HR spin the situation negatively. You've already established your credibility in the interview process, and your willingness to be open and frank about the situation demonstrates you have nothing to hide.

Generally the hiring manager will move things along internally. You might ruffle a few feathers, but just stop by with a box of cookies or donuts on your first day and thank them for their gracious help and patience during the process.

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Jun 16, 2019

Thanks for this super helpful response.

HR emailed me asking for an additional reference with the hiring manager CC'd.

I emailed them back explaining how such references are firmly against company policies at hedge funds and there is very little flexibility on my side.

Hope it works out, fingers crossed.

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Jun 17, 2019

Explain to this person that, outside the world of startups where practical reality is an afterthought, providing such a reference exposes the company to legal liabilities they would rather not entertain.

See if there is a way for people you have worked with previously to provide more of an off-the-record account of your abilities.

Jun 18, 2019

This HR person has to be new or stupid or both. The reason that the policies are in place at your old funds is because if they say anything about you that isn't 100% certifiably true they are opening themselves up to a potential defamation suit if this company decides not to hire you for whatever reason. Like the other people said here, follow up with the person who wants to actually hire you and let them know the situation. If I wanted to hire someone and this bullshit was standing in my way I would escalate the matter internally immediately to ask why HR is more concerned about whether the candidate's past managers think he can do this job instead of whether I think he can.

Jun 18, 2019
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