It’s difficult to estimate just how many job seekers we’ve seen blow an offer, just because their references were in disarray. Whether they treated them as an afterthought, believed they were either too senior or too accomplished to be asked for them, or just forgot about them all together, job seekers at any level rarely put the necessary effort into selecting, prepping, and deploying references.
This is a late-stage mistake that can easily throw a wet blanket on an otherwise successful hiring process. Nail down your references before you begin applying, or you risk playing catch-up down the line.
A reference check is a great way to make a hiring manager feel really good about his decision to hire you
Here at The Hired Guns, we like to make sure our candidates’ references are locked down well in advance of an interview. Why? A reference check is a great way to make a hiring manager feel really good about his decision to hire you. If your references are well-selected and suitably prepped, ten minutes on the phone with your old boss will help the hiring manager feel like she made a great choice.
But if a reference hasn’t been properly briefed, you can very easily make a company less excited to hire you. It’s not uncommon to see a great candidate get dinged for not choosing their references wisely. Don’t take this last step in the hiring process lightly.
It’s crucial that the references you choose be able to reiterate why you’ll be able to excel at the new job by providing examples of past experiences that are relevant to the job you’re being considered for. You want them to know the details of the gig in question, and you want them to be able to relate your best experience to the hiring manager’s needs.
Get your references lined up and ready to go. Here are some rules for finding great references:
Three is Not a Suggestion
Get yourself at least three references. Two of these should be people to whom you directly reported (e.g., your bosses) in a current or previous position. Once you’ve locked those down, consider using one colleague. If your entire reference list is filled with only peers, that’s a major red flag.
Whenever possible, have the bosses be from two different companies. (If you’ve worked for multiple companies and only send references from one, that’s another red flag.)
Freelancing is a little different
If you’ve consulted as a freelancer, it’s fine to use your lead client, as long as he can speak to your capabilities. If you’ve worked in an agency environment, asking clients to speak on your behalf is highly desirable — as long as they are at the right level.
Do the prep call
Speak to your references before anyone contacts them. This way, you get a chance to remind them about what aspects of your background they should mention during the reference check. It’s amazing how many reference checks go off the rails when a candidate just sends an email asking for the favor. Worse yet, they don’t bother informing the reference at all and the reference is blindsided by the hiring manager’s call. This alone can be — and has been — the kiss of death.
What Info you need to provide for Each Reference
- Name and job title
- The company where you worked together (if they left the firm, also provide their current company)
- How long the two of you worked together
- Telephone numbers: work and cell
- Email address
It’s also a great idea to prepare a paragraph highlighting your working relationship with each reference. It’s very important to include context and, as such, be sure to include specific initiatives that will underscore your competency for the position. (It’s also a good idea to share this information with your reference to make sure you’re on the same page). This will serve you well as it can help to guide the discussion between your last boss and your new boss relative to where you want to take your career.
Don’t Feel Awkward
We know what you’re thinking: “But it seems so weird to call her up out of the blue and ask for a favor.”
If it’s that awkward, you should be doing a better job of managing your network. But ultimately, there’s no shame or weirdness in asking a former boss if she can give you a reference. It’s one of the unofficial duties of a good boss. If you were a great person to work with, it’s likely that she’ll be happy to hear from you, happy to hear you’re pursuing new and interesting job opportunities, and more than happy to devote 10 minutes of phone time to singing your praises. Unless, of course, you wait until it’s too late.
The moral of the story is that if you’ve been buttoned up throughout the whole interview process, you don’t want to blow it here by skimping on your references. You’re close to the last piece of your job search toolkit, so push through the prep work and you’ll be accepting an offer in no time.
Now that you’ve your resume, Linkedin profile, and references in place, we’ll teach you how to write a stellar cover letter — the final piece of your job search toolkit.
28 Days to a New Job is a month-long Hired Guns course designed to help you maximize your competitiveness in the current job market. Learn the secrets to getting a job from hiring managers, recruiters, negotiation experts and more. Read our our introductory post here. Or Subscribe Now to receive 28 Days to a New Job as a daily email.