Taking care of your job references
“JOE Smith, huh? Wow, this must be the third time this year he’s used me as a reference. Is he looking for work again?”
“You’re asking about Joe Smith? Wow, I haven’t heard from him in ages. Let me see if I can remember what he did here.”
“The number you have reached is no longer in service…”
If you’re Joe Smith, these are all answers you never want a hiring manager to hear during a reference check.
Many job seekers assume that their trusty list of reference contacts will always be there to sing your praises, but many hiring managers I’ve talked to say that references often backfire and, in some cases, end up being the reason they decide not to hire the candidate.
While you can’t control all of their responses, there are some ways you can ensure that your references will provide truthful information about you that can be tailored to the job you are seeking.
Keep in touch. If you’re looking for work and plan to submit a list of references, be sure to contact each person and let them know you may be on the market again soon. This is also a good time to make sure their contact information is up to date. It’s a huge red flag if the hiring manager is given a number that has been disconnected or an email address that bounces back.
Refresh your list every year. As time goes by and details about your work experience get fuzzier, the impact of the reference begins to diminish. You may have a great reference who has provided stellar information about you over the years, but if you have not worked with that person in the last, say, five years, if may be time to find some more recent colleagues to contact.
Warn them well in advance. When hiring managers ask for references, they are usually in the final stages of deciding between the finalists and will likely start calling the names immediately.
This is no time to start warning the reference that a call may be coming that day. Give them at least a few days, or perhaps a full week, of advance notice so they can prepare their answers.
Coach references on responses. Are you staying in the same field with this job opening you are seeking? If not, what type of skills are they looking for?
Have a conversation with your references and talk about the different skill sets you will be using, if any, in this new job.
Try to remind them of projects you managed when you worked together and see whether there are any transferable skills you can highlight.
You can ensure that your references will provide truthful information about you that can be tailored to the job you are seeking.