Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion

How much do references matter in a job interview?

March 29, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Google Leads Investment In Social-Networking Game Startup Kabam
Kevin Chou, chief executive officer of Kabam Inc., stands for a photograph at the company's office in Redwood City, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 24, 2011. Kabam Inc., the maker of Facebook games such as "Kingdoms of Camelot," is getting $85 million in a financing round led by Google Inc.'s venture arm, helping the startup expand in Asia, hire developers and make acquisitions. Photographer: Noah Berger/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Noah Berger — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What are three tips for nailing a job interview?” is written by Kevin Chou, CEO of Kabam.

Job interviews go both ways. Employers certainly need to probe, but exceptional candidates know how to manage the overall interview process themselves. Kabam has beefed up its studio management team over the past year and I had the opportunity of interviewing many of the top candidates. Three of them—Nick Earl (president) and Aaron Loeb and Mike Verdu (senior vice presidents)—gave the best interviews imaginable. Why? Because they managed the discussion rather than settling on a question-and-answer session led by me. Here’s how.

From the moment we started, Nick conveyed deep knowledge about the industry and Kabam’s place in it. He asked penetrating questions about the company’s weaknesses—some to the point of discomfort for me. Additionally, Nick listened carefully to my points of view and then challenged my assumptions with keen insights. He was not afraid to ask the tough questions or confront the status quo. Mike arrived with an equally strong sense of confidence. He was never shy when talking about his considerable achievements, but also balanced the discussion with a humble assessment of his weaknesses. And lastly, Aaron portrayed an inspiring amount of enthusiasm, energy, and passion.

These interviews taught me three important things about the interview process:

Be aware of your reputation
Direct references are obvious; employers will sometimes seek back-door references to tell the real story. Whereas a direct reference might say “he’s a good manager,” a back-door reference might say, “his staff didn’t always respect his delegation skills.” Candidates should understand that their reputation and accomplishments speak louder than answers in a job interview. You should know that daily interactions with everyone around you–including those junior to you–may affect your opportunity to land that dream job down the road.

Make it mutual
Both parties should use the interview to determine if there’s a mutual fit. Candidates should never be afraid to ask tough, smart questions–they make you stand out in the sea of applicants! You’ll also make a better decision, should you get multiple offers, about who you want to be your manager.

Research the company
A deep understanding of the industry and the job function is surprisingly rare among candidates. Even though it can take additional time to do your homework, you’ll be surprised how much you will shine compared to those who didn’t put in the extra effort. And show your excitement for the position!

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What are three tips for nailing a job interview?

When is the best time to schedule a job interview? by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.

Why it’s okay to get personal in a job interview by Eva Gordon, vice president of training and development at The Container Store.

How social media can actually help you get hired by Andres Traslavina, senior global recruiter at Whole Foods Market.

3 key questions to ask yourself before a job interview by Charles Galda, CIO of technology centers and services at GE Capital.

Hiring 101: How to ace a job interview by Mike Del Ponte, co-founder of Soma.

College graduates: How to land your first job by David DeWolf, president and CEO of 3Pillar Global.

Why you should treat a job interview like a first date by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

Why an impressive resume won’t get you hired by Sunil Rajaraman, co-founder of

Birchbox co-CEO: How to nail a job interview by Katia Beauchamp, co-founder and co-CEO of Birchbox.

Watch more business news from Fortune: