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Could a Bad Reference Keep You From Getting a Good Job?

I was recently contacted by a professional engineer who had 18 years of experience with a major aircraft manufacturer. He is 50 years of age, has been looking for employment without success for over 1 Ĺ years, has had numerous interviews and been a final candidate, but received no offers. He feels his former manager may be giving him a poor reference and he says there are no opportunities for engineers in his city (a major metropolitan area.) His focus has been primarily in the aircraft industry.

Yes, it is possible a bad reference could impede someoneís efforts to find new employment. However it is highly improbable that there are no opportunities for employment in his city, and there are other factors that are more likely having a stronger impact on his ability to find work. Attitude, poor interviewing skills, concentrating only on large corporation or companies within one industry, treating the search as a part time activity, and focusing predominately on the published job market are among the more plausible reasons.

Attitude is crucial. You must believe in yourself, your mission, and your ability to convince others of your merits. You should be able to project an enthusiastic, positive, can-do image. You must convey your strong desire to work for the company and demonstrate that you are a team player. If you want the job, ask for it.

Since the average jobseeker looks for a job only 7 or 8 times during their working career, it is not an area in which they have had to develop expertise. In August of 2003 this column highlighted a study in the Wall Street Journal reporting on the seven major reasons that people were passed over for employment, and none of them involved poor references. These reasons so impact the outcome of job interviews that we are repeating them here.

  1. The inability to project a special competence in the interview (demonstrate the skills to do the job well.)

  2. Frequent job moves without consistent advancement in salary or responsibility.

  3. Failure to project objectivity or appearing to be emotional and subjective.

  4. Over aggressiveness and verbosity (talking too much.)

  5. Lack of clarity in expressing views and lack of focus in translating acquired skills and knowledge to the new opportunity.

  6. Over criticism of past or current employers.

  7. Poor dress, grooming, or body language.

The study also pointed out that most of those professionals who were rejected actually performed brilliantly on the job, but the perception was not there in the interview. Therefore you should practice your interviewing technique with someone else who can give you objective feedback, read at least one or two good books on interviewing skills, be informed about the company, dress and groom for success, and have a strategy in place.

Donít focus on only large companies or one industry. Often smaller companies do not have the financial resources to hire recruiters and donít have the perks to attract many applicants. They are less likely to be concerned about age, gender, or other cultural factors, and more likely to grow faster than larger companies. Similarly, skills in one industry can easily translate to other industries. An engineer in the aircraft industry, for example, could have skills that would be attractive to other transportation manufacturers, a high tech firm, farm implement manufacturers, etc. If at all possible, be receptive to relocation for the right opportunity. Donít exclude yourself or close doors to other options based solely upon your belief that a particular company would not have interest in you. Let the company make the decision to exclude you.

As a full time employee you typically work at least a 40-hour week. Why then would you not invest at least that amount of time in your search for new employment? If you are out of work, job hunting is a full time job. Nothing less is acceptable.

Remember that published advertisements along with the employer paid search groups (headhunters) account for only 25% of all jobs. Concentrate your efforts on networking and personal contact methods that account for 75% of all jobs being offered. If you donít understand networking, then learn.

If you have been unemployed for any length of time and you need money, then why not look for interim project work or part-time employment. There is nothing wrong with working a retail job, or selling on a commission basis until something better comes along. Some income is better than no income.

Oh yes, if you are the least bit concerned about your references, have a reference checking firm or someone you know do a reference check for you. That way you will definitely know what is being said and be able to act accordingly.

In future columns we will more thoroughly cover the networking process as well as how to gain the most value from your professional references.

- Lawrence Alter

Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques. Send ideas or questions via email to: LDA@EmploymentClinic.com. Website address: www.EmploymentClinic.com