References are an integral part of any job transition or referral based business. Are you strategically choosing and coaching your references so that they work for you?
The reality is that references matter today more than ever before because in a wide world of digital personal and professional branding, people have the power to represent themselves in a myriad of glowing ways. In order to make good choices, both hiring managers and potential clients want to be sure that you are the real deal.
I believe it is standard to have between 4-6 references and below are the points I work on with my clients to ensure those references are top notch and not tragic.
Ask permission: Take the time to speak with your potential references either by phone, or face to face and ask for their permission to use them and verify that they are willing and committed to being an excellent reference. It is common to find that someone we thought would be a good reference, if asked would actually say no. Also, you may have had great performance ratings in your last role and received accolades to your face but this does not guarantee that your ex-manager or client would not feel comfortable saying something a little less flattering on the phone. Do not assume that they will recommend you for another opportunity.
Stay current: Keep connected with your references so you can stay up to date and current regarding their job titles, current companies, changes in contact information, etc.… This is important especially in regards to acquisitions, mergers, restructures and fluidity within companies.
Share necessary information: Keep your references in the know and ensure they stay informed of which roles you are applying for. You could consider sharing your resume with them or creating a cheat sheet that highlights how your skills match the job requirements for those applications. It is important to coach your references so that they have specific speaking points as to why you would be an ideal fit for the role you are interviewing for as a lukewarm reference can be as detrimental as a bad one.
Give a head’s up: Once you begin the interview cycle with companies, call your references and let them know that they can expect a phone call and which companies may be calling. Again, reiterate what position you have interviewed for, why you want the role and how your skills satisfy the requirements.
Say thank you! Always send your references a hand-written thank you note, or at least an email, to express your appreciation. Also, let your references know if you were successful or not in landing the role as a courtesy and to keep them in the loop. Remember that references are people who volunteer to cooperate with you in your jobs search.
Furthermore, here are some other tips to ensure your references are top-notch.
Don’t include your relatives as a good reference: You may have worked in your father’s office for a short time or a relative’s company but these do not make for great references. You can sometimes get away with it if you have different last names but using relatives is still risky business as generally potential employers will assume that anything your reference says will be too subjective.
Look beyond your direct supervisor: Anyone in a position of authority can be a great reference, (such as the supervisor or director of another department that you worked with), as are internal or external clients. The goal is to find someone who can attest to your excellent work and sing your praises. Co-workers do not make the best references but it is better to have a good word from a co-worker than a bad word from a manger.
If you know there’s a problem, bring it to light: If you had a problem with your direct supervisor, be honest about it. If you are specifically asked for the contact information for that person, disclose the situation in an objective and matter of fact way, try to remove any opinion or emotion from your story, hand over their name and contact information, and then additionally offer the name and contact information of another supervisor that will offer a positive reference.
It is important to make note that many companies have a formal policy of not giving references and will only confirm employment. In most cases, the HR people will stick to this policy however, there are times when a supervisor may cross the line and share their opinion and information. Please remember that you may not always be protected by this policy.
As a final note, if you are frequently attending interviews but are not getting to the next stage, it could be time to reflect on why. If you can rule out that you are not failing in the interview and you know that you are answering questions well and making a connection with our interviewers, maybe one of your references is not working in your favour. Occasionally I have known of clients who have asked professional friends to call their references to validate if this is the case, promptly removing any negative references from their list. The objective here is that you ensure your references are aligned with your needs and thereby stay in control of your job transition.