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Employment References to Win Offers

Employment references can make or break job seekers at the end of the hiring process.

Reality Check: Never assume someone will give you a great reference. The longer you are away from a company, the less loyal your ex-associates will be to you.

Most companies will call 2 or 3 of your references before they make their final decision to hire you.

Make sure your job references will talk positively about you and give you a glowing recommendation.

Don't assume this will happen automatically.

8 Do's and Don'ts to Insure You Get Glowing Employment References

  1. At the beginning of your job search, sit down in a quiet place and thoughtfully put together a list of 5 professional job references.

    Professional is defined as a past supervisor, peer, customer, supplier, or anyone who had a close working relationship with you.

    Supervisors, or anyone above you in authority, carry the most weight with a prospective employer.
  2. Never provide employment references to hiring authorities without first discussing it with your reference and asking for their permission. You want willing, enthusiastic, available references.

    Notice I said, available.

    It's annoying and reflects badly on you if one of your references doesn't return calls promptly. When companies get to this stage of the hiring process, they want to do these references yesterday.
  3. When a prospective employer asks for employment references, only give them 3 of your 5 references.

    Keep the other 2 for back up in case they have difficulty getting a hold of someone.

    Call your references and let them know they might be getting a call from a hiring manager. Tell them it's vital for them to return the company's call...pronto.

    Ask them to call you or email you if they are contacted so you know the company is checking up on you.
  4. If you are doing a lot of interviewing over a long period of time, check in with your employment references every 2-3 weeks to make sure they are not getting tired or annoyed with calls from prospective employers.
  5. Do not type on your resume, references available upon request. Everyone already knows this and it's an overused phrase.

    Do not list the names and phone numbers of your employment references on your resume. You don't want anybody and everybody calling up your references whenever they feel like it.

    You need to be in control of who is going to call them and when.

    Sometimes recruiters and companies will try and recruit your references. Right now you're trying to get hired for this job and you need the focus to be on yourself.

  6. Avoid providing personal references (friends, pastors, neighbors) unless you are fresh out of college or just beginning your career. One of your college professors could be provided. Even then, you probably had a part time job and you could still list one or more of your past supervisors as a a reference. Your best friend or next door neighbor is not going to give you a very objective reference and companies know this.
  7. If you lost your job for poor performance or other controversial reasons, don't ask your ex-boss for a letter of recommendation, or to be one of your references.

    This seems like obvious advice, but some people reason that their former boss will at least help them land another job.

    At best, your ex-boss will give you an average reference...which is the same thing as a bad reference.

    Special Tip: If you were fired or lost your job for controversial reasons, before you exit the building, sit down with your boss and the HR Manager and get them to commit to you to only provide prospective employers your name, title, and dates of employment.

    This is becoming very common today as companies are getting sued, and losing in court, for bad mouthing someone about their job performance.

    Your company will be happy to oblige you because they don't want to be embroiled in a law suit or controversy after you're gone.

    What's nice about this is, sometimes a prospective employer will ask you if they can contact your past supervisor or company.

    They do this to test your reaction because if you have something to hide, you're going to dance and fidget.

    If you've covered this base as part of your exit interview, you can confidently tell them...Sure!

    When they call, the company will politely tell them it's against company policy to provide detailed personal references.

    They can only confirm the dates you worked there and your last position title. Now your prospective employer has no choice but to call your hand picked references.

  8. Share character reference letters from past bosses sparingly, and only under special circumstances.

    As a general rule...don't oversell yourself.

    Lot's of people don't listen to this advice and bombard companies with too much information. They don't realize this is a sure way to screen themselves out.

    You are better off leaving a company a little hungry to know more about you.

    Personal reference letters from a prior boss can be helpful after an interview if you know you are competing with 1 or 2 other candidates. In this case you can share this letter of recommendation to help give you an edge.

    Another good use of a character reference letter is to present one in person to the hiring manager near the end of your interview if you feel you didn't wow them in your interview.

10 popular reference check questions employers often ask and why

  1. What was your professional relationship with Suzie Q Candidate?

    Reason: Determines the weight and value of the person giving the reference. Supervisors score highest.

  2. How long have you known her?

    Reason: Determines depth of working relationship.

  3. What was Suzie's title and job responsibilities?

    Reason: Check this information against the resume to make sure candidate hasn't souped up their title or duties.

  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the quality of Suzie's work, and why?

    Reason: Asking for a numerical value is better than weasel words like good, great, wonderful. Also asking why, prompts them to give you a situation or example that backs up their rating of this candidate.

  5. How does Suzie compare with others in the same position?

    Reason: Is this person below average, average, above average, better than most, or superior to most?

  6. Can you share with me an example when Suzie stood out from among her peers, or was recognized for an outstanding achievement?

    Reason: Situations and stories are 10 times more powerful than flowery words or generalities. What makes her different than anyone else? Gives the company a feel whether or not she is above average.

  7. Can you think of an area where Suzie could improve upon to make her more successful?

    Reason: Subtle way of asking, what are her weaknesses? Believe it or not, over 50% of employer references oblige and share a negative or two about you. Here is where you need to provide some input to your employment reference so they don't unintentionally throw you under the bus.

  8. Give me some examples of Suzie's organizational skills?

    Reason: Most employees today are expected to carry a large work load--especially with all the layoffs and downsizing that has been going on. It's important for companies to know how candidates manage their responsibilities. It's easy to say someone is well organized, but good examples prove these abilities.

  9. Please give me 3 strengths of Suzie's professional abilities.

    Reason: If someone is good, their strengths are obvious. If the person providing the job reference hems and haws to come up with 3 strengths, then that is a sign this candidate might be pretty ordinary.

  10. Do you know why Suzie left her last job, or why is she looking to leave?

    Reason: The company has already asked the candidate this question and has her answer. They want to compare answers. A few candidates get caught in the cross fire with this one last question. Sometimes a company discovers a candidate was laid off alright, but oddly enough, they were the only person in the entire company laid off. Hmm...sounds like she was fired.

Most reference checks are done at the end of the interviewing process. The candidate has been deemed worthy and now the company wants to do their final checks to confirm their choice.

Employment references can also be a tie breaker between 2-3 strong candidates. So, the people you provide for your employment references can be one of the deciding factors as to whether or not you get an offer.

One last thing...some companies today may check your credit rating as part of their hiring process.

If you're troubled by this, here is a response I wrote to someone who emailed me about how her poor credit was ruining her job prospects.

It might ease your fears and give you some good ideas as to what you can do about it.

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