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Prevent References From Sabotaging Your Job Search
There is nothing sadder to a job seeker than to go through a long job search, only to be torpedoed by their own references! To keep that from happening to you, here are eight suggestions.
- Obtain a reference statement from your ex-company. As soon as possible, strive to get an "official agreement" with your ex-company about why you left. You need to know who is going to handle all reference-check calls and what is going to be said. You don't want anyone handling your calls who may have residual tension or ill feelings towards you. As you go through a career transition, you will need a fair, balanced evaluation. Remember, no matter what the circumstances of your departure, your former company probably would like to see you re-employed quickly so they can minimize any unpleasant reverberations in the company or the industry. Therefore, they will tend to be supportive - with a little guidance from you.
- Limit the number of references. There is a circulating myth out there that says there is safety in numbers. But, when you provide 12, 15 or 20 references, you are giving up an important item şu control. If someone is giving you a negative or a neutral reference, your chances of tracking it down are slim. Unless specifically asked to provide more references, stay with six, three business and three personal. Clearly illustrate which ones are which. With business references, list titles and verify where they want to take incoming reference calls. Some business references prefer to take calls at home, instead of work. For personal references, if you have known them for a long period of time, stipulate how long you have known each individual. This will show ability on your part to establish long-term lasting relationships.
- Never give references until they are specifically requested. When a prospective employer brings up references, have your list ready and neatly typed, including address and phone numbers. If your references have an e-mail address, you may want to include it.
But rather than just handing over your list, mention that you would like to ask your references for permission to use their names in this inquiry. Most potential employers will see this as nothing more than common courtesy, and it also gives you sufficient time to prep your references.
- Make a two-way promise. You will keep your references abreast of strong possibilities, and they will in return keep you informed regarding any calls they receive. At this critical stage, they may have a sense of how positive your would-be employer is feeling about you. You can fully appreciate how valuable this information can be as you close negotiations.
- Don't underestimate the grapevine. The higher the position level, the more informal the reference-checking process is likely to be. As the saying goes, it¡¯s a small world after all, especially at the top, where many informal reference checks take place at conferences or at business/social gatherings. What do you think is being said about you?
- Second generation references. When you select your reference list, be aware of a practice know as "back checking". This is a practice of asking the list of references that you furnished, for additional names of employees who worked with or for you. This ¡°back checking¡± to the second
generation is used occasionally by executive recruiters and outsourcing/staff leasing firms when they are trying to identify blemish-free candidates before presenting them to the companies that hired them.
- What would your co-workers say about you? Given the increasing difficulty of locating former bosses, especially if you worked for a large company which has downsized periodically, reference checkers are relying heavily on two sources: written performance appraisals and the evaluation of peers. The increasing influence of co-workers can be attributed to necessity and the growth of workplace teams.
- Give closure. When you finally take a new position call your references and thank them. Maybe someday you can return the favor. After all, what goes around comes around!
- Joe Hodowanes, Career Strategy Advisor
J.M. Wanes & Associates
Joe Hodowanes, M.P.A., SPHR, is a nationally recognized career coach, syndicated columnist, and president of Tampa-based J.M. Wanes & Associates, www.jmwanes.com. J.M. Wanes & Associates is a career coaching, outplacement, and executive search firm specializing in executive-level opportunities.