September 21, 2011


Just recently a senior merchandising candidate we are working with and who was being considered for a top Senior Category Manager role in the Retail space made a common and a potentially costly mistake for her career search – she decided not to pursue the interview process with a really great employer because of what she had heard through the grapevine about her possible future boss’s boss. Here’s another one, which happens all the time. A slate of A candidates are put forth for a Director od Supply Chain role. Two strong and very well qualified candidates get unexpectedly dropped from the roster because someone told someone (two separate streams of water cooler gossip) that the candidates were NOT great but NOT the right fit for the person asking the questions. 

 These are certainly dangerous assumptions for both companies and individuals to make becauseone is making decisions based on ‘heresay’!!! Let’s face it, ‘hearsay’ is unpredictable, skewed and unreliable at best. It isn’t always the true measure of how to size a company or a person up.

But to tell you the truth , these ‘I didn’t say this but…’ conversations are welcomed and dare I say highly encouraged. They  happen more than you would like to think and it happens from both sides of the desk. Every day employers and employees walk away from one another because of what gets said under people’s breath or into someone’s ear. And that’s a dangerous game. Because how can what they say be truly unbiased.

So here’s the skinny on references and for some, this might be an eye opener. Here’s the myth – those references you provide when you apply for that perfect position you would die for in Brand Management or Merchanising or as a Category Manager, they ain’t going to be enough to get you the job anymore.

Everyone expects that the references of record provided by you will be ‘glowing statements that testify that you walk on water’. And, if they don’t, you had better be revisiting the references you are using (it’s always good to go back and do your due dilligence on just how well your chosen references are coming across). These days, references are part of the standard process and merely a piece of the hiring puzzle. It is confirmation of what potential employers already know about you just prior to an offer.

We all know what people really want? It’s the unofficial detail about who they might hire or where they might be going to work next. And, with the world getting smaller; the internet has put everyone in networking range, in arms length reach of everyone else.  Anyone can find out anything about anyone if they are resourceful enough and don’t be surprised by this – everyone is asking questions about everyone and getting the information they want. This is where the real value is and let me assure you it’s that information that is getting used with great alacrity when people are getting hired.

Once the politically correct references have been put to bed, be assured people are asking the real questions all about you: who are you as the peer, the boss, the collaborator, the team player, the leader, coach, cook and bottle washer. Turn the tables, prospective employees are checking out companies , bosses, teams  and cultures very carefully with who they know on the QT. They are scaling their networks to find out who knows who or who can give them the dirt – good or bad – on where they might work and with whom.

So in reality we’re talking about those off the record chats that happen (or never really happen) behind closed doors, or that whispered word at the water cooler, and that hasty email getting the low down about someone who used to work with someone’s wife’s sister’s cousin at a company some five or seven years ago. Everyone knows someone who worked with someone or for someone and they all have an opinion and are only too willing to share. And as great as it is to be able to put out feelers to find out what one needs to know,  erroneous or misconstrued or out of date information can and does impact job offers and career searches or a company’s ability to attract top talent. It’s those off the cuff, back door references that can have tremendous impact  to the positive but more importantly to the negative.

Everyone is more than willing to share an opinion and those opinions will most definitely colour the prospective of others who they know. Whether those comments are fuelled by something personal or from a professional prospective depends on how one has carried themselves in their previous professional life.

Negative publicity on the ‘down low’ can be extremely insideous, harmful and can stand between you and attaining that lead Merchandising Director role or Manager, Allocation & Planning.  While everyone doesn’t have to think you are Mr. Popularity, you absolutely need to be well liked enough and thought of as professional. Be smart be able to look back at your career knowing no-one carries negative baggage for you. Like the colleague you didn’t gel with 15 years ago, the assistant who didn’t think you cut her a fair shake, the Supply Chain Manager who felt you were on his back all the time or the tough Client or the Vendor who felt you were hard in that last negotiation. These are all people who may if called upon come back to bite you….in the ankle. You get my drift.

By and large we’re all ok but occasionally it’s good to think back and wonder about why you didn’t get that perfect job. Cast your mind back to who potentially in your past might need to get taken out to lunch or coffee to make the peace with. It will be worth it.


Over and out


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