How to Deal with Employment References
Employment references are power hitters in the hiring process, so take care that your references don’t wreck your job search. Employment references are important because they can validate resume details and your claims to be a superior performer and candidate. A little foresight on your part can help ensure that your references work for you, not against you.
Managing your references is a key factor in managing your career. You shouldn’t assume that good references will always be there when needed if you’ve done good work.
What to do about references
Rethink your references and consider how they hurt your chances when they’re negative, or modest, or even positive but not concretely connected to your aspirations. These pointers show you how to make sure others sing your praises:
Ban references from your resume. Create a separate document filled with the names, correct telephone numbers, and addresses of references. Supply this sheet only when a potential employer requests it. Don’t burn out your references by allowing too many casual callers access to their names and contact information. Employers typically don’t spend the time and money to check references until you’re on the short list of potential hires.
Expect employers to check references. In times gone by, employers didn’t always bother to check references. The majority check now. Small employers still may not, but midsized and large companies, afraid of making a hiring mistake, are taking aim on your past.
When it’s no secret that you’re going to leave your current job, ask your company’s human resource specialist what the exact company policy is for providing references. You may find it’s essentially job title and employment verification dates, and perhaps salary confirmation and whether you’re eligible for rehire.
Choose references with thought. List references who have direct knowledge of your job performance. If necessary, go beyond your immediate supervisor and include past or present co-workers, subordinates, customers, suppliers, members of trade associations, or anyone else who can praise your work. Don’t use relatives or friends for personal references; they have no direct knowledge of your performance on the job.
With the exception of your immediate boss, never list a reference until you have gained that person’s permission to do so.
Help references help you. Providing recommenders with your resume is standard operating procedure. Go further: Write a short script of likely questions with a summary of persuasion points under each question.
Cover your bases with a reference folder. A letter of recommendation isn’t always effective, but it is better than nothing in cases where a company disappears, your boss dies, or the reference is difficult to reach. Routinely arrange for a reference letter when you leave a job, as well as copies of your evaluation reports, and place them in the folder.
Stamp out bad references. If you were axed or pressed to resign, or if you told your boss what you thought of him and quit, move immediately to damage-control alertness. Even if you were cool enough to obtain a letter of reference before you left, you absolutely must try to neutralize the reference.
Thank everyone. When your job search is finished, remember your manners: Thank the people who were willing to help you. Not only is it common courtesy but you never know when you’ll need them again.
Finding references while still employed
You know that it’s smart to snare a new job before hanging it up at your current position. But the Catch-22 is that you can’t give as references your boss or other managers at your current company or your secrecy jig’s up.
You have two options for getting references while keeping your job search under wraps:
Use the names of former supervisors at other companies. Ideally, these should be people you have kept in touch with and tipped off in advance about your search as well as reliable contacts. Don’t give the names of co-workers or current suppliers or vendors: You can’t be sure they won’t inadvertently let slip that you’re on the market.
Emphasize to prospective employers that your job search is confidential. When an offer looks imminent, say that upon receiving a signed offer letter, you will be pleased to have the prospective employer check with your current management and that if you don’t stack up as expected, you understand the job offer is null and void.