Learn to manage your references

24Jul12

Good references can go a long way toward helping you get a good offer as well as influencing how you’re viewed as you start a new job. Some thoughts from us, after almost twenty years of talking to strangers on the phone:

  • Not only ask people to serve as a reference, ask them what they will say to someone who calls (you can field lots of sample questions on the Web if you’d like to do a “test” reference).
  • When you know a reference will be called, call them first and give them a “heads up” and, tell them about the position and company. That way they will promptly respond to the call – and give some thought to their answers.
  • Don’t over-rehearse your references. A recruiter can tell if a group of people are sharing “talking points” about you. Frequently they all read the same words back, frequently in the bullet point order you provided them.
  • Don’t wear out your references – they are more likely to be less enthusiastic about you if they constantly are getting reference calls from potential jobs.
  • Generally speaking, people will be hesitant to say something overtly bad about you. They may damn you by an obvious lack of enthusiasm, though.
  • If possible, develop a list of references longer than three names. Typically a recruiter will ask for five or six names to end up with three completed references.
  • Don’t list your references on your resume (AKA, “Thank you for the source of additional candidates who may be better qualified than you”). Let the interviewer or recruiter ask for the names when they are serious about you as a candidate.

One of my favorite reference stories? I called a physician once who was given as a reference by an executive being considered for a VP of Sales position. The doctor said, “Who? He gave you my name? I haven’t spoken to him in at least ten years. He is an ex-brother-in law and I never liked him even when he was married to my sister. I guess he was okay, but not too bright.” Guess so. BTW, the candidate did not get the job.

Our guideline at The Clarion Group is that references are done by someone who does not know the candidate. It helps us remain neutral as we gather information and keep us from accidentally influencing the responses.

What’s your experience?



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