Reaping References Rewards


The purpose of providing references is to close the deal. It isn t to discover if you are telling the truth about your dates of employment, verify that you ve demonstrated the proper skills for the job or even to assure the hiring authority that he s making the right decision to hire you, though each reason contributes.

If a company is having difficulty deciding which of two individuals to make an offer to, references are usually the deciding factor. If more job seekers understood this, they wouldn t view the references provided upon request phrase so casually.

What constitutes a reference? Primarily, they are people to whom you have reported in your previous jobs. Secondarily, if you ve been in your current position a long time, a reference is someone who has left the company or someone you trust who has reported to you, or with whom you have worked closely. In some industries, providing a reference from outside the company vendors or long-time customers supplies an additional perspective that a former employer cannot.

A reference is neither personal nor generic. Your friend on the neighborhood baseball team may say you re a great team member, but baseball doesn t equate to the corporate world. References addressed to to whom it may concern aren t of much value either because they re non-exclusive. By their very nature, generic references are positive, or they wouldn t have been written and handed to the departing employee. Employers want to speak to the reference themselves and ask their own questions without the candidate knowing what was said.

Finding your perfect job is about selling a product and that product is you. If you want your references to help you close the sale, you need to help them, help you. The standard method of most reference preparation goes as far as the job seeker calling the references and asking each person if he ll act as one, then failing to cue them in during the process as to who will be calling. Providing your reference with the name of the company and the person phoning removes the unknown and makes the call more likely to be returned, faster. More than one job offer has been held up for need of references.

And if those two reasons aren t enough to ask their permission, also remember it s the respectful thing to do. Some candidates don t even think to track down their references and ask for permission. The names and numbers are simply listed on a sheet of paper and given to the hiring authority. Would you like to know how many times I was provided with contact information only to find the person was long gone from that company? Better me, a recruiter, than a prospective employer.

Additionally, failing to provide the person with a copy of your most recent r sum so that he has both your dates of employment and your accomplishments in front of him when the hiring authority calls is to deal yourself the ultimate wild card. And failing to tell your reference about the position for which you re interviewing and what the company is looking for in their new hire compounds that. When you provide this additional information, you not only prompt his memory, but you give him information with which to work. It helps him speak directly to what you want addressed.

Now you ve provided the prospective employer with verified information from a credible, objective and informed source. Effectively, you ve eliminated the chance of your previous boss saying, Well, he was a great employee. And he met all his goals, as far as I can remember. Sure, I d rehire him. About all that reference does, is tell the prospective employer that you weren t great enough to stand out in your previous boss s memory.

All of this is equally applicable if you were fired. Under most circumstances, truth is the only path and making sure that a reference doesn t backfire on you is all the more reason to contact that supervisor. Just because a person or company isn t on your reference list, doesn t mean people don t know others in that same industry.

It s difficult to summon the courage to ask your previous employer to provide you with a reference when you were fired. But many of those references come out better than you d suppose; the only negative tends to be the one surrounding the reason you were discharged.

When you realize the power of references and the influence they can have in securing your perfect job, then you understand how important it is to stay in touch. Then when you need them, you know where to contact them.

Put the extra work into helping your references be a reference. Since you ve made it this far in finding your perfect job, why gamble and leave the home stretch to chance?

Judi Perkins, owner of Bethel, Conn.-based VisionQuest, has been a search consultant for 25 years. You can sign up for her free newsletter at

By Judi Perkins

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