Employment Reference

One of my colleagues and close friends recently lost her CRA position due to a large round of layoffs at our former employer. I was aghast that she was let go and I felt terrible for the sponsor since we had worked on the same trial here in California; the former team of six was now reduced to just one. The sponsor tried to hire her directly but the CRO refused to allow her access to the clinical trial management system and replaced her with a Junior CRA located on the East coast. I comforted my friend and offered myself as a resource in her job search. I think her work is of the highest caliber and given the opportunity to work with her again, would do so instantly. She has been a great mentor and is truly a talented and dedicated CRA. I contacted all of my trusted recruiters, referred her to my current company, and provided resume and interview advice. Not too long after, a hiring manager contacted me to discuss my friend’s background and experience. I was prepared for the call and gave an excellent reference (if I do say so myself).

Here are the employment reference questions the hiring manager asked me about the person I was referring:

  • Describe the employee’s technical and industry skills.
  • Is the employee good at resolving problems?
  • How does the employee adapt to using new tools/systems?
  • Does the employee demonstrate compliance to regulations?
  • Have you observed the employee struggle with time and expense reporting policy?
  • Describe the employee’s site communication style.
  • How does the employee interact with peers?
  • What do you think of the employee’s written expression?
  • Do you have anything else to add?

So who should you provide as references? The company you are applying for may want to speak with specific people, but typically they will be happy to chat with a supervisor, a peer, and a personal reference. Supervisor doesn’t actually have to mean your current boss (especially if you are trying to keep your job search confidential or you don’t trust your current boss to promote you well enough). You should provide someone with supervisory responsibility for your work. This could be a line manager, dotted line supervisor, or even a project manager who maybe didn’t directly supervise you but was very familiar with your day-to-day performance and responsibilities. Secondly, I like to provide a peer who is at the same level or slightly higher than me in the organization and who has observed my work in the field. For the third reference, I like to pick someone from a different functional group in the organization or a strong personal reference. For example, I might ask someone from legal, accounting, or data management that I have worked closely with or maybe someone from a professional organization like ACRP or someone who I have volunteered for or with outside of the industry to serve as a reference.

How do you ensure your references are prepared? Ask them if they are comfortable being your reference. Pick someone who is responsive and willing because if the hiring manager can’t get in touch with your references, this could interrupt the offer process (trust me, I know from first hand experience). Then, meet them for coffee or schedule a telephone call or short meeting to help them prepare. Provide them a copy of your resume, a copy of the job description you are applying to, and a list of skills and past successes you want them to highlight. Explain to them why you are applying for the chosen position and what special strengths and relevant experience you think you offer. Request that they write up and post a recommendation of your work for LinkedIn or do a practice run with you so you know you are comfortable with what they are saying. Ask your reference to let you know if they are contacted and get feedback on how it went. Genuinely thank your reference afterwards with a hand written note, a meal out, or a small gift or giftcard.

I am happy to report that my friend has been snatched up by a wonderful company; talented people don’t last long in the marketplace. She is enjoying her new assignment and especially pleased about her 15% raise, did I mention she is a great negotiator? Being laid off can be extremely rattling, but if the quality of your work stands on its own, remain positive, reach out to your network, prepare sufficiently for your job search, help your references prepare, and trust that things will work out.

About The Author

The Lead CRA

Nadia started The Lead CRA blog in 2007. She is now lead author for ClinOps Toolkit. Nadia is currently working as a Clinical Program Manager at a small specialty pharmaceutical company in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach Nadia via email at [email protected] anytime.


  • Adi

    July 13, 2010

    Kudos to you for helping your friend find a job.

  • RNR

    May 23, 2010

    Thank you for this article. It demonstrates that even excelent talent can be swept up in the downsizing wave. Good references are needed throughout our careers. You are correct that we should followup with our referrences and remember to say thank you. We in turn should try to be good references for persons whose work we value. If we can not give a good reference we should excuse ourselves from the responsibility.

    Thank you for your post. I always enjoy your timely advice.

  • Anonymous

    May 22, 2010

    Having been laid off four times in my career, you’ve given some great advice here. References shouldn’t be treated lightly as many people do. Great care and consideration should be given to those one chooses to give as a reference.

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