If you’re job searching, hopefully there will come a time when a potential employer or recruiter will ask for references. And this is when all your good work so far may come undone. You may have a great resume and outstanding interview skills, but if you have a bad reference you risk missing out on your dream job offer.
People matter when you’re job searching. A good reference can be what makes you stand out from other candidates and gets you across the line. We’ve put together some advice on finding and keeping a selection of people who can provide potential employers with positive assessments of your ability to do the job.
Identify who to ask for a reference
Select people who know the quality of your work and can confirm you have the right skills and qualifications for the job you are applying for. Former bosses, co-workers, customers, vendors and colleagues are all suitable to give references. If you’re returning to the workforce after a break or just starting, get personal references from people who know your skills and qualities.
Contact people before you need a reference
It’s a good idea to get in touch with people before you need to use them, ideally before you start job hunting but definitely before a recruiter or employer asks for their details. This will save you time and effort in the long run and avoids last minute panic.
Then, when you’re asked for references you can contact them again and give them prior warning of who will be calling. This also allows you to review the specific position with them and they can tailor their reference to fit the circumstances.
Ask their permission to use them
Don’t give someone’s contact details if you haven’t got their permission to do so. Check they’re happy to provide a reference.
Some employers won’t provide references due to litigation concerns; they will only confirm job title, employment tenure and salary history.
Know what they’re going to say about you
Make sure the person providing your reference remembers enough detail about you to provide valuable information to a potential employer by refreshing their memory.
You can influence what they say (without compromising ethical boundaries) by reminding them of tasks on which you worked together and the outcomes. Mention your contributions to the team or company’s success, awards you won, memorable challenges you overcome.
Avoid exaggerating your achievements or boasting about how successful you were. You want them to recall the facts and, as a result, talk positively and accurately about you. If you’re not comfortable with what this person says about you, you can decide whether or not to use them for a reference.
Be careful about who is contacted
If you’re unemployed, you don’t want a potential new employer calling your current employer to check your reference. You can ask for them not to be contacted at the present time.
Unfortunately, in addition to the references you provide, employers and recruiters can – and often do – contact other people to ask about your work history. This is particular prevalent in smaller industries and locations, where they will have contacts of their own in companies for which you have worked.
If this is case, you’re limited in what you can do to influence the information provided to the potential employer. But this won’t be a problem – unless you think you may have acquired a bad reference somewhere along your career path. A poor reference won’t necessarily cost you a job, but make sure you offset it with credible positive references.
How to find out if you’ve got a bad reference? Try this at your own risk: ask a friend, preferably one in a managerial role, to call and check the reference…
Take care of your references
When you get a new job, it’s a nice idea to send a thank you note to those who provided you with a reference – especially if you want to use them again in the future!