I have had an interview recently and was turned down. The organisation has offered me feedback but I want to know what was said in my references. Where do I stand?
Jo Selby, associate director, EJ Human Resources, writes:
You are understandably frustrated that you did not get offered this position. However there could be any number of reasons, and references are only one. Seeing your references is not a straightforward process and so I would recommend you rule out other reasons first.
I think it is important that you accept the organisation’s offer of feedback as this will give you an indication of how they perceived your interview and other possible reasons for you not having been successful. It may also provide you with areas to focus on for the future.
Peter Lewis, consultant, Chiumento Consulting Group, writes:
Getting good feedback from a recruiting organisation is crucial for refining your job search, so grasp the opportunity. Your approach should be along the lines of “I particularly wish to move into this field; how can I improve the presentation of my experience, or what further experience would improve my chances of doing so?”. This is a marked improvement on “Why didn’t I get the job?” which can sound like a disgruntled challenge to the decision.
Your right to know the content of your reference is a grey area.. References are normally asked for and given on a confidential basis, though case law (and the Human Rights Act) imply that you may have a right to know if a reference is derogatory, hence the increasing trend for bland written references, confined to length of service and job title.
So while you could ask whether the reference weighed significantly in the decision, think about what signals you are sending if you start to insist on details. Be aware, too, that some companies will ask for a standard written reference but follow up with an informal telephone chat with the referee “off the record”. So even if you saw the reference, there is no absolute guarantee that it would tell you everything.