How To Manage References:
Managing references can be uncomfortable for many candidates. After all, many of your references are people you used to work for, and who are doing you a favor.
How can you manage your references, without feeling like (or appearing like) you’re telling your former boss what to do?
- When you ask for the reference: Ask on the phone or in person, not through email. Have a conversation, explain your situation, ask for their advice. Chances are the people you are asking to serve as a reference were at one time mentoring you and taking an active interest in your career. Towards the end of the conversation, after they have agreed to serve as your reference, also ask your reference if they would be so kind as to focus on specific accomplishments or skills you exhibited when you worked for them. This not only serves as a reminder (it may have been a while since you were a direct report), you can also let them know that you have other references that each covering different areas of your experience.
- Follow up before each anticipated hiring manager call: When you expect that a specific company will call for a reference, make a call to your reference (an email is acceptable here) – reminding them that they agreed to be a reference, make sure they are available (not out of town), and give them a heads up (so they will know the employer call isn’t a sales call). Take the opportunity here to suggest the reference can help you by fine tuning the message – mention that the company is looking for ways to cut costs, so mentioning some of the process improvement projects that you led and the savings you generated would be a big help.
- Don’t try to put words into your ref’s mouth: Suggesting topics and areas of hiring manager interest is OK, scripting words for the reference is not. Telling your reference exactly what you want them to say can have unfortunate results – if it comes across as scripted or unnatural to the employer, recruiter, or HR staff, the reference (and therefore you) can lose credibility. Worse, a reference may resent this or may feel it’s unethical, potentially alienating an ally.
- Test your references: Just because you expect a “positive” reference doesn’t tell you how positive it will be. Have a friend call every reference you give – and report back to you.
- Make sure you know how they answer the most important question: “If you had a need for someone with X’s skills, would you hire them again?” When your friend calls, if the answer is less than overwhelmingly positive, find another reference.
By the time an employer or recruiter calls your references, you are being seriously considered for a position, often a finalist … or THE finalist. References that unknowingly change the employer’s perception of you can kill your chances for the job – even if your reference had the best of intentions.
By knowing what your references are likely to say and offering hints of what an employer is seeking can help you guarantee that you’re getting the maximum help from your references.
Do you know exactly what your references are saying about you?
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