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Referencing can be a two-edged sword

By: Ed Fry, Founding Partner

Reference checking is a critical component of most search processes. It is often one of the final steps taken before a candidate is selected for a position and as such, there is a tendency to treat this function as a formality. Through years of experience and quite a bit of practice, I have learned this is a mistake.

As healthcare executives, we must be discerning as we navigate through all areas of life. As such, a high level of wisdom should be exercised throughout the entire search process and referencing is no exception.

While it is the primary responsibility of the search consultant, this does not relieve the hiring executive from his own due diligence is checking references.

Neill Marshall, chairman of HealthSearch Partners agrees. “A candidate’s background is not only detailed on his or her CV, but also through any social media posts he or she might have created. Today, background and reference checking automatically includes checking a candidate’s social media accounts. We counsel candidates we present for consideration to be aware of how readily available their views and interests are via their social media channels.”

Be prudent as you conduct conversational references or review written references—all too often ambiguous phrases that are meant to be favorable are perceived otherwise. Conversely, there are occasions when ambiguity is used to feign praise without being directly critical. Consider these examples:

“I’ve never worked with a person as good as John.”
“Mary is a very interesting leader.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Mark.”
“If I had the right role, I’d definitely hire Lisa again.”
“I can’t think of anything critical to say about Howard.”
“Doris was one of the better executives with whom I worked at ABC Health System.”

These types of phrases should be yellow flags for astute reference takers, who should then probe further to determine whether the reference is praising or has concerns about the candidate. Do not be afraid to dig a little deeper, ask questions and speak candidly with references. Failure to clearly interpret references may result in an unfavorable appointment. Responsible leaders understand that the ability to differentiate between a positive and negative reference is key to selecting the right candidate.

Ed Fry is a Founding Partner of HealthSearch Partners and has successfully assisted healthcare systems and hospital
boards in securing visionary leaders in more than 500 searches, including near 100 CEO level searches.

Ed can be reached at or by calling (713-304-6870).