Don’t Take References For Granted

Let’s talk a little bit about references.

For starters let me point out that references come in a couple of forms, the official and unofficial. “Official” references are the ones you give an employer to make sure you’re not an axe-murderer or anything like that. “Unofficial” references are the people your perspective employer may know and call at your current or past places of unemployment to make sure that if you are an axe-murderer you had a good reason for it.

Official references you have a little control over if you use some common sense. Obviously these are people who you are going to choose to give them. However, you never want to make the assumption that just because you think a given person will provide a positive reference that they are actually going to do it. So, the smart thing to do is to give everyone you are thinking about using as a reference a call before handing out their name and number to check on what they can or will say about you. What they can say has to do with their company’s rules on this subject. For example, some companies require all references to be given through HR because the lawyers have told them that to lessen the risk of getting sued for giving a poor or mediocre reference they need to have a pat response coming from a centralized controllable source. In that case using a specific person as a reference is pretty much useless. Assuming your reference can speak on their own you need to make sure that they know they are being used as a reference, are willing to be one and confirm that they are going to say good things. And let me make clear here that an average response is not a good reference. That doesn’t mean they need to be gushing about working with you, but neither do you want them to convey the idea that you are just “okay”. In the world of reference checking “okay” is not “good”. You also need to take into account some very basic issues like; What time is good for people to call you? Can you take the call at work? What’s the best number for them to reach you at? In short, give some thought to this process and be considerate of those you are asking to perform a very important task for you.

Here’s another spin of the reference game. What if your perspective employer wants the names of your direct supervisors and you know that you were not on the best of terms with one of them. With that being the case, it would be reasonable to assume that this person isn’t going to give a glowing report about you. So what do you do? Well, first let me tell you what not to do. Don’t try to get around this by giving them another person’s name who was just sort of your supervisor. That is tantamount to lying and lying will get you shot down like a B-17 over Berlin. Instead just tell them the truth. That for whatever the reason is you just didn’t hit is off with this person and as a result they are probably not going to say good things about you. It’s not a big deal. It happens. We don’t all love each other. And as long as you’re up front about it and the rest of your references are decent it likely won’t be a be an issue.

Okay, last but not least comes the scariest kind of reference, the “unofficial” one. The bottom line here folks is that you have no influence over this at all. You don’t know who they’ll call and as a result you have no idea what will be said about you. You can ask if they are going to call someone outside of your list of references and who that will be. And if you know it’s someone you didn’t get along with you can make sure they know that. But they may not tell you and you will just have to hope for the best and deal with whatever comes back.

The bottom line here is that you cannot take this process for granted, an awesome interview can be trashed by a bad reference. Oh! And here’s another thing to keep in mind. If you interview well at a couple of places and get an ambiguous response as to why you’re not going to get an offer there’s probably a bad reference at the root of it.


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