How to evaluate references of residency candidates: the meta reference.

A practice that I have been developing over the past few months has been to wait 24 hours before responding to certain emails, questions, or inquiries. By doing so, it has been intended to help be become less reactive and more thoughtful when encountering these events. While it is a bit of an exercise itself to learn what can wait for 24 hours, you’d be surprised how much can really wait, or better yet, ask if you can get back to someone in that time frame.

I’ll admit, I’m a novice here. But it’s a process that I have dedicated to improving. The origin of this, and numerous other developing practices and habits came from Tim Ferriss. And specifically, not necessarily Tim Ferriss, but individuals who he interviews on his podcast (Episode #354: Benedict Dohmen and Santiago Nestares with Elaine Pofeldt). Since his mission to deconstruct mastery and excellence, then share it with us, 

I’m also addicted to looking outward from the pharmacists profession, to answer or at least hint at a direction to form many solutions to problems.

One problem that I’ve found a new perspective on is on job recruiting and hiring. Now that we’re in residency interview season, I thought I’d share this interesting technique for screening job (in this case, residency) candidates.

With references, anyone who’s reviewed residency applications has the awareness that almost all references are “excellent.” This is certainly not true when it comes to the actual candidates capabilities. But because the culture of residency recruitment is so cut throat competitive, references of candidates know that anything shy of excellent could jeopardize a candidates chances at a position. 

What was not known to me was that it may, in fact, open you to liability (meaning legal… you could be sued) if you give a negative reference for someone. While the legal jargon is beyond my expertise, unless you can back up you negative reference with objective facts, it may be risky to give a negative reference. Particularly if its in a permanent record, like Phorcas.

But as a residency program director, this is endlessly frustrating. If all the candidates are great, how can I choose who to interview, and how to rank them? 

The answer is simple, ask the references for references.

If you have few strong candidates who’ve applied and really want to hone in on in which order to rank them, this technique can really make a difference. By reading the reference letters for each candidate, then following up – I mean actually speaking to – the references, you can get a better idea of whether their recommendation was BS or accurate. While having this brief discussion, the critical element of this technique is to ask the reference for an additional reference who can speak to the candidate’s qualifications or aptitude for the job.

Going to an outsider can have numerous benefits. First, this person isn’t prepared to give a canned response and likely able to give a better picture of the candidates abilities, work ethic, personality, etc. Secondly, it will give an excellent idea of the candidates’ character. Knowing how the candidate conducts themselves outside the department, when they think nobody is watching, is the best way to know whether they will do the same as a resident.


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