An Unpopular Position On References

Recently a client of mine was going through the hiring process for her team. She had narrowed it down to the final two and told me she was going to check references. I suggested that she pay each of the gals to come in for a day, or even two, to get a sense of their fit in her office instead.  Do they take direction well?  Are they quick to pick things up?  What is their energy like with other team members?

Because here’s the thing, if I’ve listed someone as a reference on my resume, it’s because I know they’re probably going to say good things about me.  We won’t get started on the folks who lie and use friends or family to put in a good word.  But even if the assessment you get is 100% glowing, or conversely if it isn’t, that has nothing to do with the relationship you’re going to have with your new hire.  Fit is deeply personal.

Don’t Wait For Hindsight

Case in point, my references weren’t checked when I got hired as an online producer at one of the big networks at the beginning of 2011.  After years as a freelance producer, I decided it was time to be normal and get a real job.  I made my application in early October of 2010 and started the interview process around Thanksgiving. By the time I was hired, I’d gone through two in-person interviews, a written test and two phone calls to get the job.  Nobody I’d listed as a reference was called, but I do know that because I am originally from Toronto, there was an investigation with immigration to make sure I wasn’t a criminal.  (I’m not!)

The very last interview I had was in person with my new boss and the Assignment Editor and as I was being given the tour of the floor where I would be working, I had a sick, sick feeling in my stomach.  I’d always trusted my intuition when it came to producing, writing and expressing myself creatively, but when it came to life, in other words finances, not so much.

I looked around the dimly lit news floor, at the grim faces huddled side by side and thought, this isn’t me.  Trouble was, I couldn’t see how I could be financially stable, save for retirement or have benefits without a permanent job.  I had to be realistic I told myself, especially when it came to money, which in hindsight, is exactly why I didn’t have any.

Being Realistic Is Not Normal

You’ll get used to it, I told myself.  I didn’t.  I never stopped hating it.

Fifteen pounds and five months later it was the end of the road and after a lot of tears and wondering why I couldn’t just be normal like everyone else, I made—what at the time seemed like—a huge investment in a business coach.  It was more money than I’d ever spent on myself for something like that, and logic told me that it was the stupidest thing I’d ever done.

You’ve been duped, I thought after I handed over my credit card.

Again, I felt sick to my stomach but there was also a tiny bit of excitement. This time I paid attention.

At the end of that year, after six months of coaching, I started this business, which I later named MeByDesign. Today I make almost four times my network salary and am working with clients I love, on creative projects that I also love. I pay my own benefits and get to travel, more than two weeks a year and yes, I’ve got investments for retirement.  The best thing about it is that the course I’ve charted doesn’t have anything to do with what anyone else thinks is realistic, it’s all mine: my new normal. 

My Ideal Clients Know I'm A Fit

Not surprisingly, in getting to the root of who my ideal clients are, I noticed that the people who I work best with are ready—like yesterday—to be done with what isn’t working and are willing to risk investing in themselves to get the help they need, to find out what does.  They get that their lives are worth more than their fear.

Although they’ve checked out my website and testimonials, know my clients, are regular readers of this newsletter or may have seen me speak, it’s their intuition and judgment that seals the deal for them once we get on the phone.  They know what yes feels like.  Many will tell me that they’ve been asking for someone like me to work with on their business, which doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been asking for clients like them too.  (Did I mention I love what I do?)

They’re ready for a custom strategy, to stay focused on their own path and they understand that comparing their results to someone else’s is going to make for a very bumpy ride.  It’s probably why not one of my ideal clients, has ever asked for a reference.  It doesn’t surprise me, because when I was finally ready to stop asking other people for their opinion on whether or not it was possible for me to do my life on my own terms, neither did I.