By MARTIN YATE
Inquiring minds want to know, and no minds are more inquiring than those belonging to interviewers. As many senior-level candidates have found out the hard way, the better the job and the higher the pay, the tougher the screening process. So if youre being considered for a top job, its likely that your references will be checked thoroughly.
At this stage of the job-search process, you must be certain that your references will seal the deal, not blow it away. But if youre like most people, you probably havent given your references much thought. Instead, youve focused on writing your resume, developing interview skills, networking and deciding what to wear to interviews. In the days just before you receive an offer, though, the focus shifts, and your biggest concern should be the quality of your references.
Surprisingly, few candidates realize that a primary reason they dont earn a job offer is because their references failed them. Instead, they assume a better candidate beat them out of the job, or that they performed poorly at some stage of the interview process. But about half of all checked references fall into the mediocre to poor category, say human resources professionals.
Some of the comments HR specialists and line managers say theyve heard recently when checking references include:
- "Company policy prohibits us saying anything. We can only verify dates of employment and title."
- "All I can suggest is that you check his references very carefully."
- "Are you certain she gave my name as a reference?"
- "We miss him very much. Too bad he was let go."
- "After we settle our lawsuit..."
- "Is she still in this field?"
References wont call to warn you that they wont be complimentary. With company policies changing, employee turnover running high in many HR departments and new laws being enforced concerning references and company liability, its safe to say that the reference situation is changing quickly.
One way to gain greater control of your job search is to find out exactly what potential references will say about you. If the odds hold true, your references will range from stellar to damaging. When you know what former bosses and colleagues will say about you, you can pass on the names of only your best references with greater confidence. Youll also have the opportunity to stop references from saying things that arent true or may derail your search efforts.
Start by making a list of your prospective references. Begin with the first job thats relevant to the position youre seeking. Then select references who have carefully observed your performance. They need to have seen you in action, hopefully performing well in adverse conditions. For each potential reference, gather the following data:
- Telephone Number
- Fax Number, e-mail Address
To help you decide who to approach about serving as a reference, dont forget the following contacts:
- Colleagues in prior jobs
- Subordinates in prior jobs
- Suppliers & clients
- Volunteer committees
- Pro bono clients
After completing your list of references, select those whom you think will be most willing to provide an excellent report. Be sure you have the correct telephone number, area code and company name. With mergers rampant and technology changing, youll look out of touch if the reference information you give to interviewers is incorrect.
Next, meet with each reference personally. Be sure to bring a copy of your current resume so they can see how youre marketing yourself to prospective employers. Let them know about the types of positions youre applying for and the qualities those companies are seeking. Also, make it clear that their reference is critical to you getting the job.
Realize that company checkers typically will ask your references to rate your skills in the following areas:
Oral communication Short-term planning
Written communication Long-term planning
Decision making Productivity
Interpersonal skills Managerial skills
Crisis management Employee relations
Financial skills Personal integrity
Leadership Technical skills
Theyll also ask references whether they would enthusiastically recommend you, their thoughts on the circumstances of your separation from your previous jobs, and for any additional comments.
Help Others Help You
With an in-depth reference check, prospective employers will have lots of information with which to break a tie between competing candidates. To help your cause, refresh the memories of your references regarding the position you held. Review your past responsibilities and remind them of the solid results you achieved for the company. Then discuss what theyll say when asked about your strengths and weaknesses.
Dont take personally comments your references say when trying to describe your past performance. Instead, help them see your point of view. During your conversation, update them on what youre doing, how youve added experience and turned old weaknesses into new strengths. If they believe that youre aware of your weaknesses, it may prompt them to tell interviewers that youre open-minded and striving to grow professionally.
When a specific offer is on the horizon, let your references know the companys name, how you would fit in the open position and that youll be using them as a reference. With this in mind, theyll feel more comfortable sharing information about you.
Once you land a new position, be sure to call your references and let them know the details. And dont forget to offer your services if they ever need a knowledgeable reference.
Mr. Yate is the New York-based author of the best-selling "Knock Em Dead" book series.
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