Job Advice

Think references are a thing of the past? Think again!!

Back to All Posts
December 13, 2011
As an experienced recruiter and in the Indianapolis staffing industry I’m seeing a trend recently of candidates we are interviewing not being able to provide solid references.  Frankly, I’m shocked!  As a headhunter who knows a great reference can put you head and shoulders above your peers in the final selection process, I’m left wondering why professionals would feel this is no longer important.  Let me address below why you want to have strong references:

  • Great references set you apart from your competition.
  • It makes the company you are interviewing with feel more comfortable with their hiring decision.
  • Job offers come much faster if references are completed during the interview process.
  • Most job offers are contingent upon reference checks, so why sweat it out once you have made it that far!

Now you are probably wondering, "How do I get a great reference?".  The first part is in your control.  You have to do a good job for the company, leave on good terms and treat managers/peers with professional courtesy.  Once you accept another position or you get the dreaded "We are downsizing/eliminating your position/outsourcing this department/laying off due to lack of work" then the first step is to secure your references.  To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Ask, ask, ask – you don’t get what you don’t ask for.  Never assume your manager will give you a reference if you did not ask them to. 
  2. Get their personal contact information – you want their personal information (phone, address and email address) because if they leave that company or the company closes, you will still need that reference and that means calling them on their personal phone.  I also ask for their home address and send them a holiday card every year.  They won’t forget about you if they see your smiling family on a card each year.
  3. If you are on LinkedIn, ask for a recommendation on your work and return the favor for your reference.
  4. Keep in touch – reach out to them a couple times a year to keep good contact information.  Don’t be afraid to disclose some personal tidbits as well and make it a friendly touching base email. 
  5. Make sure you call your references by the time you reach the 2nd interview with a company.  If they know to be expecting a call, chances are they will return the reference call much quicker.  This will also give you the heads up if someone is going to be unable to be reached due to a travel schedule, vacation planned or just being out of the office for an extended period of time. 
  6. Know what they are going to say about you.  If there was an attendance problem at that time, or if you are like me and are notoriously late to everything then make sure the company you are interviewing with knows this so they don’t get any surprises during the reference check process.  If you give good reasons for the issue and how you have learned from your mistake this will only make you look better.  If you don’t mention it and they do, rest assured you probably won’t get the offer you are waiting on.  As all football fans know, the best defense is a good offense.  You want to get all their possible reasons for objections out of the way early on, not during the reference check process.

Obviously, this is the best case scenario, so what do you do if company policy prohibits your manager from giving a reference?  This depends on the level of trust between you and your supervisor.  I have always been close with mine so I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable asking them if they would talk "off the record" to the company I’m interviewing with.  If you aren’t close then chances are they won’t be comfortable with this.  You will need to alert the company you are interviewing with when they ask for references that this will be the response they get.  Offer additional references from other companies, volunteering activities, or external customers you worked with at that company. 

To address the question I get from new graduates, "I don’t have any work experience so how do I get a reference?".  Use professors for a reference.  This will take extra work on your part but I’m a firm believer in the advantages of staying connected to professors after graduation.  If you have a professor more than once for your area of study – Ex.  Accounting professor for accounting students then they would be the most optimal reference.  You also have many other potential reference resources that you might have considered during your time at school. Summer jobs, volunteer opportunities, extra-curricular activities, student leadership posts and many more. To get them to give you a reference, make sure you follow the 6 steps listed above. 

Now go add your references to your holiday card mailing list!!!  Happy Holidays from That’s Good HR!!