Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Learning how to hire #3: checking references is a networking tool

Back into the hunt for a postdoctoral fellow and I am back calling people all over the world to check
references. As stressful as it is to take half an hour off your busy schedule to talk to the prospective fellow's former supervisor, it is the best use of your time. I have already mentioned the importance of checking references (here and here), but I am always amazed at what I learn about the fellows, the institution they come from and their referees. The best part is how truly helpful and honest almost everyone is. I don't know whether it is because I am new at this and I clearly explain to them that I am looking for my first postdoc, but everyone has taken their time to understand what I want and to figure out whether the applicant is the right person. Sometimes he/she is not a good fit and they tell me very clearly, sometimes there are issues that are raised and discussed very honestly and sometimes they are really excited to talk about their best student. Everyone in a way identifies with me, because they have been there, looking for that first diamond in the rough, and they are ready to give advice.

This sense of community garnered from reference checking has somewhat surprised me. Maybe I should have expected it because judicious recommendations of students and postdocs are such a cornerstone of academic research, but the honesty and the time people have taken to talk things through has been amazing. What also surprised me are the professional relationships that have emerged. At some point I decided to give a little introduction of the lab and of the project when I first talk to someone, which also puts our work in prospective and sometimes I just end up talking science with this person I have never met. One of these referees I have then met in person at a conference to chat about possible collaborations, another invited me to give a talk, someone offered to post my ad in their department and keep an eye out for suitable candidates, someone will help me with the further career development of our now common mentee. All this was a great unexpected bonus, so that now I am really looking forward to checking references because I never know whom I could meet. 

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered this blog and it is wonderful. I really can't thank you enough for this trove of good advice. I just entered the job market and I feel like I just found a road map for the next few years. Thank you. -Sarah