Considering using an evaluation performance survey instead of disturbing my references (again) by Sara Vaca

Hi, I’m Sara Vaca, independent consultant (, helping Sheila curate this blog and eventual Saturday contributor.

After 5 years as a freelance evaluator, I am starting to get more contracts coming from previous jobs or mouth-to-ear, but still, I see myself going through the regular selection process: the evaluation commissioners publish the Terms of Reference where they ask you to prepare a methodological proposal, your estimated budget and, in some occasions, they also ask for references from your previous jobs to have more information about how you work. And, if you have gone through that, I don’t know about you, but I’m often embarrassed to disturb my former colleagues or managers (again!) to ask them for references.

Cool Tick: So, I have thought of this idea I haven’t tried out yet, but I thought it could be cool: What if, after each evaluation, I sent the evaluation commissioners and users I’ve worked for a short survey so they can assess my performance (once), so when future potential employees ask for references I could forward them what they have said about my work. I would use some of the typical questions they usually ask in the templates they send so the content is useful for them. Would that work? This could have several advantages: 1) serve me to learn about my performance in a more structured manner, 2) it would allow me to stop asking them for the same favour over the years, and 3) also it could save some time (as often they are busy and the selection/contract process can be delayed until they have the time to answer).

Hot Tip: If we could do that, we would save our references the trouble of being bothered by this, because I also often doubt about whether to reach out to warn them or not: if I do, chances are they are finally not contacted – while if I don’t say anything, they’ll probably get contacted and reach out to say so later.

Rad Resource: There are many resources out there to do quick online survey, but in my case, I would use (that I use quite a lot for other purposes, such as before conducting a workshop, I contact participants to understand their level in the subject and their expectations so I can better customize the survey – but that is another story).

If you want to comment on the idea (whether you think it could be a good fit or not), it would help me to decide whether to try it – and if I do, I would certainly let you know about it later! Thanks 🙂


UPDATE: Patricia H. Mueller let me know that AEA posted an evaluation form for members to use with their clients (on principles and an abbreviated one). The principles one should probably be updated to match the newly revised ones. She uses a revised version of the longer form every other year or so with her clients that she finds helpful for constructive feedback and also for marketing purposes.


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6 thoughts on “Considering using an evaluation performance survey instead of disturbing my references (again) by Sara Vaca”

  1. Marian Heinrichs


    My first thought – What a great idea!
    My second thought – Who is creating, administering the survey and compiling the data? Sorry, if you’re not going to hire an independent consultant for the work, I don’t think its going to work in the way you want. If I need a recommendation, I want to know that what I’m getting is not influenced by the candidate. And consider what you would do if you received feedback on your survey that wasn’t altogether complimentary.

    All the best,

  2. Sara – a simple and effective strategy that accomplishes several things at once aka an evaluator’s dream. I put building something out on my to do list for this week. Also as an aside, if you use Microsoft Office for Business – the “Forms” app provides the functionality of a basic survey while also allowing it to save directly into your OneDrive or SharePoint.

  3. Thanks for bringing this up Sara, it bothers me too a lot, having to frequently bother references. But references serve different purposes don’t they? One is trust … If I were the potential client, my biggest reason for contacting references is to filter out potential outliers – maybe a candidate who is simply lying about everything. So it is important simply to check with a reputable officer in a reputable organisation just to make this “idiot check” – rather than necessarily to get detailed feedback. If the candidate forwarded me a feedback form I might not trust that either.

    Maybe your form could help because at least the client could just ask the referee “did you really sign this form which the candidate sent me, is this really what you think” … and in most cases the referee would just answer “yes” and that would be that. But if it was a complete fabrication, in which case they would say so, and if there was something they wanted to add in confidence, they could add that too.

    An alternative might be some kind of rating system like Tripadvisor or ebay … I guess LinkedIn is already something a bit like that …

    Best wishes

    1. Yes!, I also think a lot about that for evaluators, so you can probably (hopefully) can demonstrate your good work by your clients public reviews. Thanks, Steve!

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