Bulletproofing Your References in the Hunt for a New JobSeptember 15th, 2009 | Interviewing, References | 1 Comment »
An employer recently requested a recommendation from Andy Levine about one of his former staffers at Development Counselors International in New York.
The problem? “We fired him after three months” because he missed more than five major deadlines, says Mr. Levine, president of the economic marketing-development firm. He merely confirmed the man had worked there. Since that October call, the dismissed employee repeatedly has offered Mr. Levine as a reference — without his permission. And the exasperated executive hasn’t been able to contact the fired staffer about the situation. Mr. Levine’s advice to job seekers: “Seek references from someone besides the boss who fired you.”
Most job hunters grasp that basic maxim, yet many still fail to make the most of their references. As unemployment soars and hiring shrivels, you must carefully cultivate your endorsers. Businesses looking to hire are pickier than ever. As for Mr. Levine, he requires 12 references from every finalist, asking each referral, “What is wrong with this candidate?”
Going the extra mile with references may enhance your chances of landing a job. “That means caring enough to do more than just asking for permission,” emphasizes Randy Street, an Atlanta partner for ghSMART & Co., a management-assessment firm in Chicago. He co-wrote “Who,” a book about successful hiring methods.
Here are some ways to make sure your references take good care of you:
Create and maintain an up-to-date “bank” of referrals.
It’s a wise idea to collect recommendations when you quit a well-done job. Don’t limit yourself to written tributes, however. Consider video testimonials, which you can post through VisualCV, a free service for job seekers that lets them craft online résumés.
LinkedIn, a professional networking site, contains a “recommend” feature where prior colleagues and superiors can sing your praises. By reaching out to such contacts while he was still fresh in their minds, marketing manager Steve Boudreau increased his LinkedIn endorsements to 21 from three soon after a Chicago executive-search firm laid him off in March. “Having many endorsements will help set me apart,” he predicts.
Prepare your references for hiring managers’ tough questions.
Anyone vouching for you needs gentle reminders about your shared work history, your most memorable achievements, their relevance to the desired job and a detailed description of that spot. Anticipate negative queries by telling references about your corrected shortcomings.
You might say, “Back then, I wasn’t as organized as I am now,” Mr. Street advises. You also could ease a reference’s discomfort over describing your biggest flop by noting “some outcomes were good,” adds Sean Kenney, a partner at Essex Partners, a unit of outplacement counselors Keystone Partners in Boston
Contact references after they’ve spoken on your behalf, and use innovative methods to stay in touch a few times a year.
“You want to make sure your references are doing a service for you,” says David Marshall, a credit analyst. In following up with three references for a job with GMAC Commercial Finance LLC, he learned they gave the right answers about him — and gleaned insights about that business.
He joined a GMAC Commercial unit in Greensboro, N.C., last May after being jobless since October 2007. Mr. Marshall treated his endorsers to a mea
There are other ways to show your gratitude. Send references a card on Thanksgiving Day, a holiday when people rarely receive greetings, notes Oscar Adler, a career and communication coach in Deerfield, Ill. “Yours will be appreciated,” he says.
You also might set up “Google Alerts” to monitor Internet mentions of your references, proposes William Arruda, founder of Reach, a New York personal-branding concern. Email “Bravo!” after you spot a referral’s latest article citation, speech or promotion.
Don’t clutter your résumé with unnecessary verbiage about contacts.
The popular phrase, “references available upon request,” wastes space on an obvious point. Instead, you should write up the names, titles, email addresses and telephone numbers of five references, then hand them over after every job interview, Mr. Adler recommends.
Don’t offer outdated references or “big names” who barely know you.
Your boss from 1999 may still think you’re wonderful. His endorsement means little in today’s harsh job market, however.
Similarly, “proximity can trump prestige,” because your immediate supervisor is well aware of your achievements, says Marilyn Machlowitz, a New York executive recruiter specializing in nonprofits. She isn’t impressed by “big name” references who only can spout glittering generalities about candidates they hardly remember. Such name dropping “comes across as bragging,” she adds. On the other hand, “a big name who can really talk about your work can help.”
Don’t seek endorsements from the same person again without describing the outcome of your last request.
When a California accounting professional sought a newspaper job last year, a former supervisor provided a glowing recommendation. She turned down the offer because she was afraid to join a sick industry.
But the woman neglected to alert the ex-boss, who she thinks would have appreciated knowing why she rejected the job offer.
The best way to repair a gaffe like that? Simply apologize.
By Joann S. Lublin | April 2009
Write to Joann S. Lublin at email@example.com
Resource Printed in TheWallstreet Journal, page B9