Employment references are power hitters in the hiring process, so take care that your references don’t wreck your job search. Employment references are important because they can validate resume details and your claims to be a superior performer and candidate. A little foresight on your part can help ensure that your references work for you, not against you.
Managing your references is a key factor in managing your career. You shouldn’t assume that good references will always be there when needed if you’ve done good work.
Employers do make the call.
Many applicants are under the impression that employers no longer ask for references or that they never actually call them. Depending on your line of work, a reference can be someone who was your supervisor, co-worker, client or customer. But picking the right ones can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for. One of the biggest mistakes is a reference who can only provide the applicant’s dates of employment and job title, and nothing else. You don’t want to leave the hiring manager feeling as though you’re wasting their time by providing useless references who don’t know much about you. It is recommended picking references who will distinguish you from the other candidates interviewing for the position.
Choose references with thought.
List references who have direct knowledge of your job performance. If necessary, go beyond your immediate supervisor and include past or present co-workers, subordinates, customers, suppliers, members of trade associations, or anyone else who can praise your work. Don’t use relatives or friends for personal references; they have no direct knowledge of your performance on the job. With the exception of your immediate boss, never list a reference until you have gained that person’s permission to do so. Help references help you, providing recommenders with your resume is standard operating procedure. Go further: Write a short script of likely questions with a summary of persuasion points under each question.
Call your former boss and ask if you can reach an agreement about what he’ll say to future reference calls. While you might dread making this call, remember that the worst that can happen is that he’ll say no. Pick anywhere from three to five potentially favorable references and call ahead to let them know you need a good review. Don’t wait until the last minute to let them know a potential employer will be contacting them; some “cushion time” should relax your reference. And never, ever list a reference without his or her permission. Nobody likes surprises.
Being sneaky doesn’t work.
Sometimes a hiring manager doesn’t have to pick up the phone to see some warning signs of a bad applicant. If a candidate has no supervisors as references from any positions, it is indeed a big red flag. These candidates could be hiding a history of unfavorable departures or just a bad work ethic. It is also wary of a reference list that contains an incorrect phone number or only cell phone numbers, or simply a list of names but no job titles. Companies have gotten wise to candidates that list inaccurate contact numbers on their reference list – perhaps pointing them to call a friend’s cell phone as opposed to the company’s HR department. If they want, they can find the HR department’s number themselves and verify the information. “Online networking sites also provide a way for the hiring company to connect with potential references that the candidate may not have listed directly.
Don’t aim for a title.
It’s tempting to target a high-level executive where you worked. But hiring managers want to hear your story, preferably from someone who worked closely with you on key company projects, and a CEO may be too far removed from your day-to-day performance. It’s better to go after a colleague or immediate boss who can fill in the details and give an employer a well-rounded review of your capabilities and qualifications.
Reference checks benefit you, too.
In addition to basic factual information, a reference can reassure an employer that the person is right for the job and provide tips on what kind of manager the applicant needs. The thing to remember is that hiring managers are not out to get you; they want to learn more about you. Their goal is to hire the best candidate for the job, and that means somebody they want to work with every day. Good references can not only help you get the job but also a boss and co-workers that you like.
When your job search is finished, remember your manners: Thank the people who were willing to help you. Not only is it common courtesy but you never know when you’ll need them again.