If you have worked most of your career in academia, it is likely you have served on or chaired a search committee for a senior administrative hire and are familiar with the intense process of searching for the right leader. You have spent valuable time in listening sessions expressing your ideas and concerns for the future of the institution, sifted through numerous applications and evaluated them against rigorous qualifications specified in the leadership profile, and now you are selecting semi-finalists for neutral site interviews. The question can arise at this point about when candidates’ references should be engaged. As executive search consultants, we recommend speaking with candidates’ on-list references before semi-finalist interviews, since they can provide a useful backdrop for the interview conversations.
On-list references are beneficial as they often weave a theme or a thread that confirms traits and characteristics derived from a candidate’s application materials and the interview process. However, when speaking with on-list references, we sometimes detect an area of concern, a hesitation in the dialogue, or something that is NOT being said by the reference. These are all excellent reasons to make us pause and not just rely on references provided by the candidate. With so much at stake in making a critical hire, we have an obligation to conduct our due diligence and should never shortchange the process.
Below are seven key benefits of speaking with off-list references: