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You’re getting interviews with the employers you’re targeting, and job search references are requested.
Congratulations! You’ve worked your way in, and they’re interested.
They wouldn’t ask for references if they weren’t strongly considering you.
Checking references takes time for employers and costs them money. Only the best candidates will be worth it. They must be pretty serious about you.
Are you ready to send those employers a list of several people to verify your strengths, character, qualifications and good-fit for their needs?
How To Select, Qualify and Prepare Your Job Search References
Weak, or in any way negative, references can kill your chances of being made an offer. They can turn around that employer’s previous glowing impression of you.
Hopefully, you haven’t waited until now to compile your list of references. You’ll need time to pull together a potent group of people who are best qualified to reinforce your personal brand and confirm the value you offer.
Before providing your references, or even starting to interview, take care of these two things:
Social Media: Does your online presence scream “Don’t hire me”?
Google “your name” and find out what prospective employers will find online about you. Take down anything negative or controversial that you can. Build up strong search results to supplant any of the bad stuff you can’t remove, and provide people assessing you with just what you want them to see.
Credit Check: Many background checks include a review of the candidate’s credit. Become aware of what a potential employer may learn ahead of time by pulling your credit report and resolving any questionable issues.
Identify good possible candidates for your reference list
- Co-workers at current and recent previous companies, at all levels – your peers, those below you and those above you.
- Members of your employers’ Boards of Directors, especially if you’re a c-suite or top-level executive.
- Vendors and customers of your employer with whom you’ve worked closely.
- Thought leaders and subject matter experts in your industry or area of expertise, that know you and your work.
Choose the right people as references . . . probably NOT friends.
Think twice before including friends on your list. Your references should have some professional connection to you, and be able to provide meaningful information about your work performance. A weak reference can turn the tables against you.
In an article on Job-Hunt.org, former executive recruiter Jeff Lipschultz said it’s important to choose the right references for the right situation:
“You might want different references depending on the job you have applied for.
Different references may have different levels of credibility and authority in different industries, professions, or, even, in different locations, so carefully selecting the references for a specific employer or situation may increase the probability of landing that job.”
He suggests rotating references if you’re asked for your list often, to avoid overburdening your references with too many calls.
Jeff also makes an important point about LinkedIn recommendations:
“For references or endorsements on LinkedIn, keep in mind that those people may be asked questions about you without notifying you first or asking your permission. Make sure to remind the references when you’re on a job hunt in case they are contacted (those giving endorsements might be too much to manage).”
Gather information from your references
Select 8-10 people (or more) from your list above with whom you’ve worked for a good amount of time. They should be people that you know will give you a strong recommendation. Contact each one to be sure they’re okay with being on your list.
Compile the following information on each reference to accommodate employer needs:
- Title (if the individual has left the company or retired, in the job title line put “former” or “retired”). Example: “Steve Jones, Former Director of Engineering” or “Martha Miller, CEO – Retired”
- Company (where you worked together or were associated)
- Company Mailing Address (or home address if reference prefers not to be contacted at work). NOTE: Never list reference contact information on the Internet without their express permission.
- City, State, Zip
- Preferred Phone Number
- Relationship: How you know the reference – former employer, coworker, team member, instructor, etc.
Qualify your reference list
- Inform them of what kinds of jobs you’re seeking.
- Tell them what kinds of skills, strengths, qualities and qualifications your target employers are looking for.
- Prepare them for a call by sending them a link to your LinkedIn profile and your resume.
- To help them rave about you, provide anecdotes and specific accomplishments of yours.
- Prep them on how to deal with salary questions. Make sure they know how you have addressed this with the employer, so both of your answers are in sync.
- Prep them to deal with questions about your weaknesses, to be consistent with how you’ve already addressed this in the interview process.
Put your job search references into action
Bring your reference list to the interview and be ready to provide it when asked, or at the end of the interview.
Do not send references each time you send a resume. References are being generous with their time. They will quickly tire of being a reference, and their kind words may go sour if they are interrupted during supper every night to respond to reference calls.
Keep records of which references you use for each application or interview. This enables follow-up with references to learn which companies have called. It also allows you to thank them for their efforts.
More to Do with Your Job Search References List
After qualifying people and tightening your list, you should be ready to create a “List of References” career document.
Include in your list each person’s name, title, company, location, email address and phone number, and a brief explanation of your professional relationship to them.
Taking it a little further, you can expand your list of references and make it a “Reference Dossier and Accolades” document. Along with the above noted information, include a brief, impactful quote from each person, supporting your brand and value proposition.
As you move through job search, contact each of your references in advance. Let them know, when you know they’re about to get a call from an employer, so they’ll have time to prepare and review your materials.
Reaching out to your list of references not only helps them know how to position you as a good-fit candidate for the jobs you’re seeking.
The contact also helps you stay top-of-mind with them. And it gives you the opportunity to remind them that you’re still job-hunting, and possibly gain a lead or two from them. That’s just good networking!
Don’t forget to send a thank you note (a handwritten, snail-mailed note is best) to every one of the people you’ve contacted to be on your list.
Update them on your job search progress along the way, and let them know how much their input and involvement have helped.
What Are Your Job Search References (and Others) Actually Saying About You?
Obviously, the list of references you provide to employers is not going to include people who you think will bad-mouth you.
But even the people on your list may not be coming through for you in the way you need them to.
And potential employers are likely to contact people NOT on your list, to get a full picture of who you are.
Who from your past job will help you or hurt you? You need to know.
- Could a jealous colleague be sabotaging you?
- Could your past employer(s) be less than happy at your departure?
- Is your past employer giving you the professional and prompt reference that was promised in your separation agreement?
- Or are they saying, “Well according to our agreement, I can only confirm that he worked here?”
- Could your past employer(s) actually be black-balling you?
Bad or mediocre job references can sabotage your chances for a new job or a promotion.
A prospective employer will never tell you that they didn’t hire you because of an unfavorable reference. You’re more likely to hear something like “We’re going in a different direction”, or you won’t hear anything back from them.
Some of the Unfortunate Things That Can Happen With Job Search References
Along with bad-mouthing and wishy-washy comments, several issues with past employers could sabotage your chances. Here are some things that could happen:
The company’s comment policy is not what you think it is.
You’d be surprised by how often companies do not honor corporate policy regarding references.
With a little pressure, employers often break company policy and speak their mind to either help or hurt a candidate’s chance at another job.
Your reference may not say what you expect.
Even if you’ve carefully selected and prepped your references, they may say damaging things about you. If they say anything less than stellar, it can have a negative impact.
Your information may not match the HR records.
Your employment dates, job titles and responsibilities may not match what’s in your records. Such a discrepancy may cause a prospective employer to think you’re not being truthful.
Your record may have been omitted from the HR records entirely.
This happens more often than you might think, especially if there’s been a merger and not all records made the transfer into a new system.
And if you’re self-employed, not all companies keep records for contractors in their HR system. How do you think you’ll come off, if a prospective employer hears that there’s no record of your ever having worked there?
Your reference contact may no longer work for the company.
If you haven’t stayed in touch with a reference, you won’t know if they still work where you say they do. Someone checking your references may be shuffled through the system and passed off to someone who doesn’t know them, and who won’t cast them positively.
How to Avoid (and Deal with) Bad References
Play it safe. I recommend hiring Allison & Taylor, a trusted professional reference-checker, to confidentially find out what is really being said about you and give you the power to stop it!
Their services include:
- Documented Job Reference Check
- Full Background Check
- Cease & Desist Legal Letter For Bad Job References (in conjunction with attorneys)
More About Executive Job Search
7 Things Successful Executive Job Seekers Know
5 Mistakes That Can Derail Your Confidential Executive Job Search
How Important Are Thank You Notes in Executive Job Search?
How Do I Rebuild My Network for Executive Job Search?
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