Here at Vanderbloemen Search Group, we ask candidates to provide 3-5 references, regardless of the position they’re seeking. We also ask that these references fall into one of these three categories: supervisor, colleague or subordinate.
Not all references are created equal.
Under these guidelines, below are five people you shouldn’t be listing as references and who to list instead.
1. Your Dad
It should go without saying, but I’m going to go ahead and say it: Don’t list your father as a reference. Your father might have been your supervisor at some point in time, and he might even give you a good reference, but your future employer may see it as unprofessional. It’s generally best to avoid immediate family members as references for this reason.
Who to list instead: A former supervisor of any kind, but not an immediate family member
2. Your Father-in-Law
While your father-in-law may not be an immediate blood relative, this falls under the umbrella of unprofessionalism when used as a reference. There could be a very clear bias from family members, providing your future employer with a less-than-truthful depiction of you as an employee. In the future, play it safe: keep it out of the family.
Who to list instead: A mentor from your work place or an Elder or Deacon at your current church
3. Your college roommate
You would be surprised at the frequency with which college roommates are listed as references. It’s understandable that they may know you very well; they may even be in ministry and you may still be in touch from time to time. The problem with listing college roommates is that typically they have little to no idea what type of employee you are. They might glaze over important details or simply be unaware of your tendencies in the workplace.
Who to list instead: A current or former colleague that knows you and your work
4. Your supervisor from 10 years ago
Do you want someone today talking about the you from ten years ago? Hopefully you have grown, matured, and developed by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Ten years is enough time that your past weaknesses could now be your biggest strengths.
Who to list instead: An individual you reported to within the past five years. It can be difficult to ask the supervisor of your current place of employment to be a reference because they may let you go immediately upon finding out you are interviewing for other positions. Unfortunately, this a very common predicament. Is there an individual that you reported to who has moved on to another church or workplace? If you can’t think of a supervisor, is there someone from leadership at your church who has moved on and can speak freely about your work like an Elder or Deacon?
5. A colleague that knows nothing about your area of ministry
The colleague you list as a reference should know your work well. They should be able to answer basic questions about your ministry, quality of work, leadership, and interactions with staff and volunteers. If you’ve picked a reference that cannot describe these things, then you haven’t chosen the best representative of your previous work and should continue searching.
Who to list instead: If you are a High School Pastor, list the Junior High Pastor. If you are an Executive Pastor, list the Accountant or another member of the senior leadership team. Consider the other pastors you regularly pull in to help you in your ministry, but choose a colleague you can trust confidentially.
What are some other examples of poor references? How can a candidate know that they’re selecting the right references?
This article was provided by our church executive search partner, Vanderbloemen Search Group. To learn more about Vanderbloemen Search Group's recruiting services and how they can help you fill your open position, click here.